|Photo Credit: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images|
In order to provide better insight, I've broken down the statistics by quarter so readers can judge for themselves how not only the players performed but how they did collectively after 41 games.
Overall Offense - 2.50 (25th)
Offensive support has been dropping steadily since the 1st quarter, now resting at an even 2.50 goals per game. Last season’s average of 2.56 ranked them 26th in the league but hidden in those numbers were the stark contrast in support given Jaroslav Halak compared to Carey Price.
Last season, the Habs scored an average of 2.93 goals a game for Halak but just 2.28 for Price. As I mentioned, after 41 games this season the Canadiens are scoring just 2.50 goals per game with a largely healthy group of forwards. 24 teams teams currently score more than the Habs while the league average GAA is 2.62, leaving a very small margin of error.
5 on 5 - (18th)
After a promising start to the season, the off-season moves by Pierre Gauthier and the system implemented by Jacques Martin ultimately hasn't changed anything in terms of improving their play at even strength. Well-laid plans never survive first contact with the enemy and it took just one run through the conference for teams to adjust.
The high-water mark, just 5 weeks into the season saw the Habs ranked 5th in the NHL 5 on 5 but they have slipped steadily since... to 8th, 12th, 15th and now 18th. With no off-season moves to bolster the top 2 lines, the team's 5 on 5 ratio dropped back to an even 1.00 after 41 games.
Given that the team was built around special teams and 4 on 4 play in 3 point games, it's no surprise the 5 on 5 ratio has slid 3 years straight from a high of 1.06 (13th) to 0.96 (17th) to 0.90 (22nd) last season. The downward trend suggests the Habs will finish the season with about a 0.95 ratio.
Power Play - 18.4% (14th)
It's easy to get distracted by the percentages. During the 1st quarter of the season the Habs power play was brutal, scoring just 10 goals with a percentage of 13.9%.The 2nd quarter saw the power play produce 15 goals, 9 during slump that began in Detroit, finishing at 23.4% for the quarter and 18.4% overall after 41 games. That ranks the Canadiens power play 14th at mid-season.
What the power play percentage hides is the fact that they system Jacques Martin has them playing doesn't force teams to take many penalties. While the power play is ranked 14th, the Habs are 25th in total power play opportunities and 19th in actual goals scored. Last season they had the 2nd best percentage in the NHL but were ranked 30th, dead last in penalty opportunities and 11th in goals scored.
Penalty Killing - 87.4% (2nd)
Other than the heavy lifting Carey Price did in November to carry the team, the Habs penalty kill can take credit for the team being in a playoff spot at mid-season. The forwards who have contributed that success are Plekanec, Pyatt, Halpern, Moen and Gionta.
This is were the loss of Josh Gorges will hurt the most. The tandem of Gorges and Gill played on the PK almost 1:30 per game than any other defense pairing. Spacek and Hamrlik are the 2nd PK defense pairing so the 3 remaining defensemen responsible for success killing penalties are also the oldest players on the roster. If Subban can't fill the gap left by Gorges, look for Pierre Gauthier to address it via a trade.
Defense - 2.33 GAA (4th)
Carey Price and the penalty kill units backed by Gorges, Hill, Hamrlik & Spacek are the reason the goals against has the team ranked 4th in the league. James Wisniewski was playing excellent defense for the Islanders at even strength prior to the trade, necessitated by the season-ending injury to Josh Gorges.
Wisniewski will help replace some of the offense Andrei Markov would have contributed on the power play and help bolster the group at even strength but he isn't a replacement for the PK load Gorges handled. If Subban, Picard nor Weber can fill the gap quickly, another trade will need to be made before the deadline.
Overall, there must be concern over the load being placed on Hamrlik, Spacek and Gill, the oldest players on the roaster, with another 41 games to go plus playoffs, hopefully.
Looking at the forwards and defense in group splits per quarter; Top 6 Forwards, Bottom 6 Forwards and Top 6 Defense, it becomes easier to provide insight on how the team is doing over time, adjustments that are being made and where needs exist going into the 3rd quarter.
Forwards - Top 6
As a group, the top 6 forwards who are on the ice the most are also responsible for the bulk of the offense. Comparing the 1st quarter to the 2nd shows a major slide in plus/minus from +24 to -13 which lays the blame the drop in 5 on 5 ranking primarily on them. They also averaged 3 fewer hits per player, mainly because of Kostitsyn and Pouliot. The call-up of Pacioretty to play on the second line will likely move Pouliot down to the bottom 6 grouping in Q3.
Forwards - Bottom 6
The bottom 6 forwards also saw their collective plus/minus drop, from +8 to -17 while Lapierre cut his penalty minutes drastically. It'll be interesting to see who, if anyone can replace his 50 hits as the bottom 6 will struggle to provide a physical presence to support the smaller top 6 forwards in Q3, especially if Desharnais remains on the 3rd line.
Defense - Top 6
The defense struggled badly in plus/minus during the 2nd quarter, dropping from +15 to -21 though they managed to increase their physical play and shot-blocking. Offense from the back end also dropped though the addition of Wisniewski and Weber in Q3 should help off-set the loss of Gorges to some degree.
At the halfway point, the Habs have managed to cut their shots against per game by almost 2.5 shots and maintain it, enough to move them from the bottom third last season to near the top third this season.
GOALTENDERS - Quarter splits and commentary
Goaltending is a game of adjustments and the NHL season is best described as a Marathon. Carey Price should have been spot-rested instead of leading the league in minutes played and it finally caught up with him in Detroit.
In the 11 games were Price struggled to end his slump, he went 3-7-1 with a 3.29 GAA and a .880 SA%. Not good numbers at all but with the team scoring an average of just 2.09 goals a game for him during that stretch, his record would most likely have been the same.
In game 41 against Pittsburgh, Price showed signs that his confidence, technique and moxie were making a comeback as he struck a “Bad Boy” pose after stopping all Penguin shooters in the shootout to win the game, a pose that would have made Run DMC proud. Time will tell if that game was the beginning of another hot run for Price.
It appears Jacques Martin learned a valuable lesson. Don’t expect much when your backup goalie goes too long between games. Other than the rusty start to the Toronto game, Auld has played as advertised; solid. Auld should get 5-8 more starts the rest of the season, hopefully in back-to-back situations to keep Price sharp and healthy.
FORWARDS - Quarter splits and commentary
Tomas Plekanec - 20:14 Avg TOI
Even though Plekanec put up disappointing offensive numbers in the 2nd quarter, he doubled his shot-blocking and was one of only two players in the top 6 offensive group not to have his plus/minus drop into the negatives. On most quality teams, Plekanec would be a rock-solid 2nd line center but in Montreal, with the poor performance of Scott Gomez, he’s been asked to take on a much bigger role.
Plekanec plays in all situations and is on pace to lead all forwards in shifts per game for the 2nd year in a row, about 6 shifts a game more than when Saku Koivu led the forwards some 3 years ago. For overall performance, not just points, Tomas Plekanec has been earning every penny of his new contract.
Brian Gionta - 19:09 Avg TOI
The smallest player in the NHL plays big, bigger than a number of his fellow forwards. Faux questions about his ability to handle the pressure of being Captain of the Montreal Canadiens proved to be unfounded as he’s quietly put together a solid 1st half of the season without the point padding of a top 5 power play.
To compensate for being a low percentage shooter, Gionta averages 4 shots a game, the volume needed to score goals in “The Show”. I had hoped Gomez would catch on but it hasn’t happened so one hopes Pacioretty learns this valuable lesson.
Given the roster juggling to find a left winger who could play with Gionta and Gomez, he’s actually performed very well given the circumstances and should be able to mentor Pacioretty, ideally while they improve their play at even strength.
Michael Cammalleri - 18:45 Avg TOI
While Cammalleri‘s offensive splits have been somewhat consistent, except for poor even-strength play while being more physical in Q2, he’s still not far off his PPG rate from last year.
It’s not too late for him to break out and match or even exceed last year’s PPG numbers but if something doesn’t happen soon, Gauthier may have to go shopping for a big winger to try and get him going… at the expense of Andrei Kostitsyn.
Scott Gomez - 18:08 Avg TOI
Thank goodness for the power play because without it, Scott Gomez would be a 20 point player instead of being on pace for 41. Not exactly what the Canadiens hoped for when they acquired his $7.357 Million cap hit which still has 3 more years to go.
As bad as it is, there is no realistic alternative on the roster or in Hamilton capable of playing his minutes in key situations. Louis Leblanc will most likely make the NHL as a RW but even then, Leblanc probably won’t be with the Habs until 2012-13.
One has to assume that Gauthier will try to trade Gomez this summer to a Cap floor team as his salary after next year drops lower than his Cap hit. With the Salary Cap expected to rise by another 2-3 Million, there are actually teams like the Islanders or Phoenix who may be interested.
Until then and barring one of the biggest trades in recent Canadiens history, Gomez will be depended upon to help turn things around. His -8 in Q2 was the worst plus/minus of the top 6 group and his hit counts appear to be more a result of accidental run-ins on the ice than any attempt to play physical.
Gomez's recent scoring run is more reflective of the Habs power play finally coming to life about 2 weeks prior to the arrival of James Wisniewski. It's hoped that Pacioretty can help improve the line's even strength play in Q3 but if he can't Gauthier will most certainly make another move.
Andrei Kostitsyn - 15:54 Avg TOI
While Andrei Kostitsyn gets the goat horns for most of what ails the top 6 offensive forwards on the Canadiens, his play without the puck has actually been just fine. During the 2nd quarter, Kostitsyn threw the most hits and was the only plus player (+5) among the top 6 group.
His shot totals have dropped as has his shooting percentage which suggests Kostitsyn has lost confidence in his abilities, hardly a surprise given the way he was moved around to try and get others, especially Gomez going. Kosti needs stability and ultimately, he may need to find it elsewhere.
Given the contracts to Gomez, Cammalleri, Gionta & Plekanec it seems all but certain that Kostitsyn, who’ll be a RFA this summer will be the odd man out between now and the summer. Until then, Andrei needs to be accountable and find a way to start scoring again. Of course, he’s not alone.
Max Pacioretty - 15:30 Avg TOI
Patches' comments regarding Jacques Martin were true and sometimes the truth hurts. Judging by the calls for excommunication and punishment to teach Pacioretty a lesson, it’s perhaps a good thing fans and media don’t make roster decisions. A commitment to work hard and offensive production made it impossible for the Habs to keep Patches down for long and now he’s back to stay.
Pacioretty’s 6.02, 208lb frame adds much needed size to the Gomez-Gionta line and he has the speed and skill to play with them. What’s also noticeable is he now seems stronger on his skates and has better balance than last year. What Patches also has is Chris Higgins poor shot accuracy, scoring on just 12.8% of his shots against AHL goaltenders. That’ll likely translate to sub 10% in the NHL which means he’ll need to keep his shot totals up and crash the net for in-close chances. Two things the Habs are in desperate need of.
So far at least, Pacioretty is averaging almost 3 hits and 3 shots a game, so if he can keep it up and improve his even-strength play, he should be just fine.
David Desharnais - 13:46 Avg TOI
Maxim Lapierre, RDS never knew ya. The Francophone media latched onto the teat of David Desharnais from the moment he was called up from Hamilton, dedicating an on-ice camera for close-ups every time he stepped on the ice. Indeed, welcome to the world of over-expectations.
The reality is that 5.07 inch Desharnais isn’t going to push Plekanec or Gomez from one of the top 2 line center positions anytime soon which means he’ll be centering the 3rd line and playing with Pouliot and Darche, at least temporarily. Can he provide offense while being defensively responsible against another team’s scoring line?
The Habs traded Halak to groom 6.02 Lars Eller to address the need for size down the middle so unless Eller fails to improve on faceoffs and barring another trade, it doesn’t appear that Desharnais will become a fixture in Montreal which was already lacking size and physicality up front. Until then however, Desharnais will get every opportunity to prove he deserves to stay.
Jeff Halpern - 13:00 Avg TOI
All good things must end and Jeff Halpern returned to Earth in the 2nd quarter, starting with his shooting percentage. Halpern’s plus/minus dropped from +8 which led all the defensive forwards in Q1 to -5 in Q2, second worse of the group. Compensating for the stats are his continued good work on the PK and success being the best shot-blocker up front, something I’m sure Carey Price appreciates.
Halpern needs to play more physical during the 2nd half of the season and contribute more secondary offense. If he can generate 8+ points in Q3 with a better plus/minus, that would do nicely.
Travis Moen - 12:31 Avg TOI
Travis Moen has been brutal this past quarter, save for his work on the PK. He must find a way to get back to how he performed at the start the season which will be hard to do now that he’s gone from being a regular on the 3rd line to the 4th where he’s getting almost 2 fewer minutes of ice time per night going back to last season.
Like Pyatt, Moen’s role has been reduced primarily to that of the PK specialist since he’s struggled badly at even strength this past quarter. He’s still one of the more physical players on the team and is just about the only forward who’ll fight to create space for his teammates. If his play continues at this pace, look for Moen's time with the Habs to be nearing an end.
Maxim Lapierre - 11:53 Avg TOI
Yes, Maxim Lapierre hadn’t played well this year but he was hardly alone. His claim to be under-utilized doesn’t seem to add up as he averaged about 1 fewer shift per game going back to last year. His inability to win faceoffs forced GM Pierre Gauthier to trade a 2nd round pick for Dominic Moore last season and while he was never the 2nd line player fans and the Francophone media wished him to be, his 50 hits last quarter and 104 on the season led all Habs by a country mile.
Given that Lapierre was a the community poster-boy for the Montreal Canadiens, one can’t help but to think the sudden trade and poor return was triggered by events in the room, not on the ice. With just a 900k cap hit and the quota of Francophone players on the roster monitored by the media as if they were on the endangered species list, it certainly appears the Habs were concerned about something more than just his performance on the ice.
Benoit Pouliot - 11:42 Avg TOI
Pouliot has been the benefactor of lowered expectations. Until Max Pacioretty was called up from Hamilton and certainly before the season began, it was hoped Pouliot could play second line minutes and be the big winger the Gomez & Gionta line needed, badly. He wasn’t.
While Pouliot rounds out the top 6 group of forwards the first 2 quarters, he should be firmly planted in the bottom 6 grouping for the 3rd quarter stats. More was expected as his physical play eased up in the 2nd quarter though he’s put up points with very little time on the PP.
Guillaume Latendresse showing up to camp out of shape and getting a sports hernia as a result has stopped the comparisons for now but with so many small players playing big minutes for the Canadiens, more was expected from the 6’03, 200lb winger who’s now settled into his role as a secondary offensive player.
Tom Pyatt - 11:34 Avg TOI
Tom Pyatt is slowly but surely putting himself in danger of losing his roster spot on the Canadiens. He offers speed and a solid PK effort but little else. All teams need role players but since Pyatt offers no offense whatsoever and plays a positional game almost devoid of physical play, his ice time at even strength has been slipping all year.
As a PK specialist however, he’s played very well but on a team in desperate need of secondary scoring, especially at even strength, it wouldn’t take much at this point for an alternative to Pyatt to be considered an upgrade.
Mathieu Darche - 10:41 Avg TOI
Mathieu Darche has quite simply been, the best of the rest so far this season. Given all the one year, one way contracts handed out by GM Pierre Gauthier, Darche has been the most consistent. He’s not fast but manages to get where he needs to be, doesn’t have soft hands yet is the only bottom 6 forward to put up points on the power play and at 500k, has been excellent value for money so far this season.
At 34, Darche needs to play a bit more physical like he did in the first quarter and fans and media alike need to remember that without time on the power play, an indication something isn’t right among the top 6 forwards, he’s a 16-20 point player and should be used accordingly.
Lars Eller - 10:25 Avg TOI
Eller started the year averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time per game and as one might expect, wasn’t able to do much with it as he got familiar with Jacques Martin’s system and style of coaching. At least not when he regularly played under 3 minutes a period most nights until games were decided and garbage time padded his TOI.
Eller started to produce in the second quarter with more playing time and regular shifts, tying for 2nd in points among bottom 6 forwards while his +2 was actually the best of the group. Problem was, Eller stopped hitting and blocking shots like he did in the 1st quarter of the season and as a result, started taking more hooking and tripping penalties.
Between the stick infractions and a faceoff percentage just over 40%, Eller was recently benched and may need to switch from center to left wing, at least short term until his success rate on face-offs improves.
All things considered, Lars Eller has played better than some of the others this quarter, namely Pyatt and has demonstrated strength and balance along the boards and behind the net which should be utilized more.
DEFENSE - Quarter splits and commentary
James Wisniewski - 23:12 Avg TOI
Known as an offensive defenseman, it’s surprising to see James Wisniewski rebound from a brutal -15 during the 1st quarter with a very bad New York Islanders team to a very respectable -1 during the 2nd quarter. A key component of the turnaround was the even-strength offense he was able to produce, a skill that will be badly needed in Montreal.
Wisniewski also adds a physical element to the back-end and should be 2nd only to P.K. Subban in hits during the 3rd quarter of the season as the Habs scramble to replace the minutes and production of both Markov & Gorges. The power play was already improving prior to the trade with the New York Islanders on December 28th but it’ll need to get even better if the team’s 5 on 5 play continues to implode.
Roman Hamrlik - 21:57 Avg TOI
Roman Hamrlik has been rock-steady so far this season, providing solid defense as well as much needed offense from the back-end. He’s been the Habs best shot-blocker and perhaps seeing that Hamrlik turns 37 in April, it’s probably in his best interest that he’s no longer a big hitter.
Still, given the season-ending injuries to Markov and Gorges, Hamrlik will likely be asked to continue logging big minutes, even with the acquisition of James Wisniewski. Unless they want Hamrlik to risk injury, Jacques Martin needs to keep his minutes under 22:00 and be spot-rested where possible.
Josh Gorges - 21:10 Avg TOI
One look at the split stats and its obvious Gorges was playing hurt long before the torn meniscus caused his knee to finally lock up on December 26th in New York against the Islanders. Not only was there a big drop in blocked shots, Gorges hit and shot less as well, producing no offense whatsoever in the 16 games he played during the second quarter, except of course for the goals that were scored off him on deflections past Carey Price.
Fans could tell Gorges was playing hurt and struggling badly. Gamers don’t pull themselves from the line-up; they need to be taken out by the coaches for their own protection. In this case, there was no way Gorges could play another half season plus playoffs with a torn meniscus in the same knee that had an ACL torn 7 years ago without it requiring major surgery.
After the injury to Markov, Gorges was the best penalty-killing defenseman on the team and a mule for eating up big minutes in key situations. Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier was already looking for an offensive defenseman when Gorges was hurt so the injury was kept quiet until the Habs could trade for James Wisniewski 48 hours later. A need that may still need to be addressed should Picard nor Weber prove capable immediately.
P.K. Subban - 20:32 Avg TOI
It’s the coach’s responsibility to identify what motivates players, carrot or stick. In the case of P.K. Subban who was +5 with 9 points in 25 games prior to his benching and -8 with 3 points in 11 games since, it’s clear the carrot works best.
He’s also taken twice the penalties, blocked 30% fewer shots and has been shooting less so it’s obvious the benching played havoc with his confidence. Not only did it hurt his defensive game, the opposite of what was intended, it negatively impacted his offensive instincts as well.
With Andrei Markov and now Josh Gorges out for the year, Subban must be allowed to jump into the offense when the opportunity presents itself and play through the mistakes which will surely happen during the second half of the season.
Subban is the best open-ice hitter on the Canadiens and will likely join newly acquired James Wisniewski in logging the most minutes per game during the 3rd quarter of the season.
Jaroslav Spacek - 20:05 Avg TOI
While Spacek’s offense slipped in the second quarter, his commitment to hitting and shot blocking went up, something he’ll need to maintain without getting injured. Spatch turns 37 in February so he must be spot-rested during the second half and find a way to contribute more offensively at even strength as his power play time has been limited and isn’t likely to go up for the remainder of the year.
Hall Gill - 19:29 Avg TOI
Gill has been very consistent so far this season and took over as the 2nd best shot blocker on the team after Gorges eased up in an attempt to protect his injured knee. So far, so good but he’ll need to stay healthy, step up even strength play and do more to keep the crease clear for Price.
Gill turns 36 in April so the question is, can the younger defensemen, namely Subban, Picard and Weber play well enough to keep his minutes around 20:00?
Yannick Weber - 16:48 Avg TOI
Can Yannick Weber handle NHL forechecking and physical play? Scouts and GMs know he has an NHL calibre shot but unless he could learn to play smart in a post-lockout era that would give him the chance, Weber’s potential would max out as a 7th defenseman and power play specialist.
So far at least, Weber has shown he’s willing to take the body more than Alex Picard, averaging 1.46 hits vs. 1.27 while blocking just as many shots. He’s yet to get a legitimate shot to show what he can do but so far, it appears Yannick Weber can handle the physical play. Unless he’s bundled in a trade for help up front, Weber will have to make the most of his limited opportunities as he competes with Picard for ice time.
Alexandre Picard - 16:11 Avg TOI
Since benefiting from the trade of Ryan O’Byrne and a -6 since, it’s becoming evident 6.02, 210 Picard won’t play physical or pay the price to defend the net. This quarter he hasn’t hit enough, hasn’t made a commitment to blocking shots nor supported Price enough clearing the net on goalmouth scrambles. All elements of Ryan O’Byrne’s game who’s played well in Colorado since. Barring another trade, Picard will challenge Weber for playing time in Q3.