Friday, January 28, 2011

Draft Odds

Will Carey Price Escape Last Goalie Picked Scenario?

When the NHL announced that it was to create the All-Star teams for the Annual Classic by a live draft, the first thought in most peoples' minds was:

"Who will have the shame of being the last standing"

To soften the blow to the 6th goalie and the last defenceman taken, the league put in some rules to ensure these were picked by an earlier deadline. (They also softened the blow to the least deserving forward, er defenceman, when they made him an assistant captain with exemption from the draft)

But guess what. someone will still have to be picked last. What's more, with the use of cunning and guile we can all figure out who the last defender and goalie picked were anyway.

As Canadiens fans, we don't have the luxury of being from a city in the US where the NHL is really trying to promote itself right now, so we only have on representative at the game.

Carey price nearly won the write in ballots, but the always humble Penguins fans stuffed the boxes for their goalie before Christmas when his stats were so Un-Star. Carey made it anyway, either on merit or because every team has to have one representative -- you tell me.

In any case, what this all means is that just about the only reason to watch any of the festivities this weekend for the hardcore Habs fan is to see where Carey price will be selected. It should give a new barometer on Price -- what opposing players think of him.


Mock draft results

Ahead of the actual draft, one of the most popular things to do for people with 3 minutes to spare is to do a mock draft and publish it in their newspaper or on their web page. In these drafts, the columnists either pick who they'd select (credible?) or pretend to be Staal and Lidtsrom and pick that way (less credible?).

In order to get an idea of the odds for Carey, I had a browse through about 9 mock drafts to see where he stood (NHL I, NHL III, TSN, Cgy Herald, Can Press, SI, SN, Broadstreet Hockey).

At this point, I'd have to say that Carey Price is the odds on favourite to be selected with the very last pick of a goaltender. The chips seem to fall mostly this way:

1) Cam Ward
Those pretending to be Staal all took him first. Given that Staal is the one picking, it seems plausible that he might go for Ward.
7 first, 1 second, 1 fourth (never after Price)

2) Tim Thomas
The best goaltender in the league this year (and over the past few years) gets relegated by Ward, but no further.
2 first, 4 second, 3 third (once after Price -- TSN)

3) Jonas Hiller

The best save percentage over the last few years, a solid and consistent bet is recognized as such.
1 second, 3 third, 2 fourth, 3 fifth (twice after Price)

4) Marc-Andre Fleury
Having to earn a selection without an internet vote may prove harder for MAF. The pundits knock him down the few notches his career stats deserve.
3 third, 3 fourth, 2 fifth, 1 sixth (twice after Price)

5) Henrik Lundqvist
Lidstrom is Swedish, and Lundqvist is pretty reliable to a standard.
2 second, 1 fourth, 4 fifth, 2 sixth (thrice after Price)

6) Carey Price
One big fan in Darren Dreger, but also openly mocked by some fantasy drafters. He was the clear last choice form the limited selection here.
1 second, 2 fourth, 6 sixth


On form

On form alone, Carey would probably fare a bit better.

This season, he is tied for fifth among the All-Star goalies in save percentage, with 0.920, good for 13th in the NHL (tied with Ward). Carey's been good, but the league standard has gone up. He's been better at keeping the goals down, as he's 9th leaguwide in that regard (2.36) and better than both Hiller (2.50) and Ward (2.70). So let's say if this game wasn't in Carolina, then Carey would be well ahead of Cam. Then again, if it wasn't in Carolina, how would Shanahan explain Ward over Pavelec or Rinne?

If we take a regular season only view and remove playoff accolades and blushes, then Carey is also slightly better than both Ward and Fleury for a career.


Sorry folks, but unless this game is suddenly moved to a different venue, it looks like GAA numbers won't be enough to save Carey's uneasy stand until the 10th round of this draft.

If there's something we've learned about Carey in his short career, however, it's that thinking he has something to prove is a better mode than thinking he's proved something already. As far as the Habs go, it may be good for Price to add a little chip to his shoulder for the next time he faces Staal, or Richards, or St. Louis.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Canadiens As All-Stars

Montreal Canadiens have figured prominently since the modern NHL All-Star Game began in 1947. In the early years, when the game was a contest between the league stars and the Stanley Cup Champions (wow, I wonder how they could create more interest in the modern All-Star game?), it was the Canadiens as a team 8 times from 1953 to 1967.

1968 was the last using this format, as expansion meant the league had twice as many players to choose from.

Since the 1969 game (the first after expansion), the game has been staged 36 times (this year being the 37th edition). And since that time, there have been 96 players associated with the Canadiens taking part in the game proper and 100 taking part in the weekend. PK Subban, with his replacement selection will be the 101st Montreal Canadien to take part in the modern All-Star Game -- a game taking place in the very symmetrical 101st Montreal Canadiens season.


The most times in the Habs sweater

96 times since 1969 players have represented the Montreal Canadiens.

The most players the Canadiens ever sent to a post-expansion All-Star game was 7 in 1978, when Ken Dryden was accompanied by Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, together with forwards Lafleur, Shutt, Cournoyer and Gainey. Nobody probably batted an eye at the time because the Habs were setting points records, piling up Cups and sending at least 6 to the All-Star game every year anyway.

The most times that any one player has represented the Habs since expansion is Larry Robinson. The standard he set of 9 games looks virtually untouchable, especially when one considers the next closest are no great slouches: Patrick Roy (6), Guy Lafleur (5), Yvan Cournoyer (5) and Ken Dryden (5). Carey price is on the right path, with two selections at this early stage. But 8 more to surpass Robinson is asking a Hall of Fame career from him.


The most appearances by a Canadiens alum

If we count games where a Habs alum skated, regardless of which team he was on, the numbers change. In all, Former, Present and Future Habs have played in 246 games (96 Present, 95 Former, 55 Future).

The players of note here are Patrick Roy and Chris Chelios. Both appeared in 11 All-Star contests over their careers. Robinson is next, with 10 (he had one honourary skate around with the Kings). They're followed by two players at 7 (Mark Recchi and Denis Savard) and a big group at 6.


The most consecutive appearances

There's a lot to be said for consistency. Consistent selection to the All-Star game is Hall of Fame stuff.

The most consecutive selections to a post-expansion game by a former, present or future Hab was 8. Chelios achieved this from 1990 to 1998. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, 7 of these appearances came after the famous trade to Chicago.

The most consecutive appearances by a player at the time he was with the Habs was 5 selections. This was done by Patrick Roy and Guy Lafleur.


All-Star traded away

It happens, to get you have to give. Chelios is mentioned above. But one hops that in trading an All-Star calibre player, one might at least just it at the tail end of a career.

The most All-Star seasons after leaving the Habs is a dubious record which is held by Chris Chelios at 9. You'd be wrong in thinking that Roy was next. His 5 were painful to watch, but Carol Vadnais and Tony Esposito both had 6 All-Star appearances after leaving Montreal.

At least Patrick also had some All-star years in Montreal. Neither Vadnais or Esposito did. Nor did John Leclair or Red Berenson, who each went to the All-Star game 5 times after leaving Montreal.


Bringing in an All-Star
Getting stars in the yes, it's happened to us all. We all dream up trades. Some people make a website empire out of it.

The perils of trading an All-Star can be balanced with getting an All-Star, if timed just right. Players who later became Habs dressed in 55 All-Star games since 1968.

The best acquisition here has to be Frank Mahovlich. He appeared in the first two post-expansion All-Star games as a Red Wing before being brought in to Montreal. Following that acquisition, he suited up for 4 more games, all consecutive from 1971-74. The next best is possibly Mark Recchi, who was three times an All-Star in Montreal before Rejean Houle discharged him for the sake of profit margins.

Other than Recchi, only Kirk Muller, Pierre Turgeon, Denis Savard and Alexei Kovalev ever replicated their All-Star form after being brought in to help the Habs.


Aging vets

At the last Stanley Cup parade, I had Gary Leeman sign his hockey card. As if to show his teammates that he once wore All-Star colours, he passed that card around the whole float to show his 51-goal season.

Unfortunately for Habs fans, Leeman wasn't the only star to ever be brought in after his All-Star days were behind him. 19 players in all fit this bill. There's still time for some (Hamrlik and Gomez among them).


Prospects lost

In the expansion era, losing prospects was an inevitability. Losing All-Stars too. But what's the excuse for GMs now? Ribeiro, Streit and Robidas are all recent alums that have gone onto recognition in other towns.


Years of shame

Someone was commenting the other day on Dadonov as the only Florida player at this weekend. They have no representation in the game itself. The Habs came mighty close this year too, with price the lone Canadien at the game proper.

Twice, though, 2001 and 2003, the Habs sent no one at all to the All-Star game. At least, Koivu was selected in 2003. 2001 was just a horrid year to be a fan of this team.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Game #50

Penalties Kill Montreal

Details



Date: 25/1/2011
Opponent: Flyers
Location: Philadelphia

Loss: 2-5

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Bobrovsky (W)

Habs goalscorers: Desharnais, Darche
Opposition goalscorers: Carter, Timonen, Carcillo, Giroux, Briere



Play of the game


This wasn't an easy choice tonight, so will just go with the obvious; our first goal. Hard work from Darche kept the play going and it was he who got the puck to Gill on the half-boards. Hal found Desharnais who was covering at the point and it was the kid's turn to show how well he can shoot. With Mat and Eller passing in front of Bobs it seemed that the puck just floated on, into the net.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Mathieu Darche - Game Puck
Darche was never expected to have 20 points before the All-Star break, be on the PP and see time on a scoring line, but thanks to hard work he has done all that. What he brings to the ice, and what he brought tonight, is hard work and a willingness to do jobs that others fear or don't want to do. He isn't a fancy player, but is still a very useful one. Tonight he chipped in with a goal and an assist and both were thanks to hard work.

David Desharnais
I liked that he scored a goal tonight, but also liked the way in which he played. He, although tiny out there, doesn't seem to be afraid of anyone and when you can play that way against Philly that says something. I am not sure what the next few weeks/months hold for him, but if he can keep playing smart and keep putting up numbers I have no problem with him as our permanent 3rd or 4th centre.

Scott Gomez
RDS didn't like Scott tonight, but then again, when do they? After thinking about that I tried to think of positives and what I determined was that he was one of our best forwards tonight. It wasn't one of his best games, but he was still better than most. I felt that he created some good opportunities in the offensive zone and fed his linemates quite well. 16 minutes of ice is a little harsh, so I am hoping that was more as a rest. We'll need Gomez to preform well in the next 32 games, so I hope he enjoys his week off now before the big push.

Defencemen

PK Subban
I loved PK tonight for not backing down and for not being affected by the boos. When you can get under a team's skin like he has done you are doing something right (I mean, when was the last time Tom Pyatt got booed on the road?) and that will help us as we go forward. He played quite a sensible game and I felt that he was an asset throughout.

Roman Hamrlik
I am happy that Hammer finished the first half with a good game. The next few days will hopefully be rest time for the veteran as his coach hasn't been giving him much of that lately. With him playing well we look good. Subban and Gill are doing the job and Wis is certainly (although not so in the defensive end tonight) a quality player. Spacek and Weber are getting 5/6 duties and minutes and it is actually suiting them well. So, I think that Hammer has done a good job leading this group, but I hope he knows that his job is not nearly complete.

Goaltender

Carey Price
His teammates let him down a bit by taking so many penalties, but when you play a team like Philly these things happen. Yes, Price let in 4 and took the loss, but it wasn't his fault that we lost tonight. The dome is his because had his teammates played as well and as smart as he did we would have won.


Comments


A loss on the road to the best team in the league isn't that devastating; it is kind of expected. Positives have to be, however, that we tied them when the game wasn't 5-on-3, they have a good line-up, but are pretty much healthy, we are missing Camms and we proved again that size doesn't matter. Yes, they are bigger than us and yes, they are tougher than us, but that doesn't always mean that they'll win. We had some nice rushes where we used our speed and showed that their goalie is no Carey Price. In fact, there were two posts from us which, had they gone in, could have made this quite the interesting affair. The last thing to be happy about is that Philly consider us a rival and, because of that, are at their dirties against us. That (and this is a big, likely false assumption) means that over time they will take more penalties on us than we will on them. If this were ever the case, and could hold true, and if we could get our PP clicking again then I know that we could beat them. Don't forget that in Philly's case size only refers to the body size and not brain size. Talented players like Briere, Giroux and Zherdev will all go out of their way to slash, punch or hit a player and that will always be an advantage that we hold as we are a smart team, our good players go for the puck, not the body.

The Flyers Success Story

Building Tips For The Habs

The Canadiens and the Flyers meet for the fourth time this season. This time, the Stanley Cup finalists sit on top of the NHL (tied with Vancouver) and are doing it with offense.

The game promises to be a good one (they often are in this rivalry), but aside from that, it’s a chance for Canadiens fans to glimpse a very well-put together NHL outfit for the last time in the regular season. Why well put together?

It’s been noted here before, and elsewhere, that balance has been a key with the Flyers. Their top three centres on some nights are Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. All first round picks, all having great seasons. Their wings are just as deep with Claude Giroux (the envy of a province), Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk and Nikolai Zherdev.

Surely a team like this would suffer at the back? Nope. Pronger, Timonen, Carle, Meszaros, Coburn and O’Donnell at its healthful best.

It’s a line-up with oodles of pre-professional pedigree and experience (10 first rounders) to go with their recently gained Stanley Cup teeth.
When one looks at this team, one has to wonder how Philadelphia came out on top over Atlanta, Florida, Islanders, and other perennial lottery seekers. They’ve had their high first rounders (Pitkanen, van Riemsdyk), but Philly has built this group through hard work, some good drafting and a commitment to a formula. I think there are some good lessons for Montreal managers here:

1) Big draft coming – be ready
2003 was one of the most talent laden drafts in the history of the NHL. There’s hardly a player drafted in that first round who hasn’t played in the NHL. It has more than its fair share of stars. Montreal media will never tire of telling us about how Andrei Kostitsyn (picked 10th) could have been Jeff Carter, or Mike Richards, or Zach Parise. Philly was one of a few teams that positioned themselves superbly for this draft. Prior to it taking place, they managed to turn Daymond Langkow into a first rounder from Phoenix. In doing so, they nabbed the #11 pick. In addition, they accumulated 7 picks in the top 3 rounds. Doing this affords a team with the freedom to cater to more scouts and take chances, while leaving those annoyingly unsuccessful hole-filling picks for later rounds.

2006 was the same story, deep draft and Philly was there with a boatload of picks. I’m not sure the Flyers go for Giroux at that time in the first round (their D was a big, big weakness) without the surety of 5 picks in the first 3 rounds.

Montreal’s done an OK job of this in the past (and 2003 and 2006 were pretty good hauls for them too), but this lesson just needs to be drilled in a little more.

2) Draft forwards, acquire defencemen
The best forwards are young, fast and dynamic. The best defencemen are old wise and efficient. It’s right there for NHL GMs to see, yet some still insist on picking defensive defencemen in early rounds (Komisarek, Fischer, Tinordi).

Philly has about 8 dynamic scoring forwards, any or all of which could score 30 goals. Add 9-goal Nodl and that’s nine. Of the nine, 4 are Philly first rounders, Nodl is a second rounder. Yes they added Briere, Leino and Zherdev through a variety of means, but their core is from their own scouting and commitment.

The contrast is their defence. Pronger (trade and sign), Timonen (trade and sign), Coburn (trade), Meszaros (trade), Carle (trade), O’Donnell (sign). Not a draft pick there.

Since the Pitkanen choice in 2002, Philly has had 6 first round picks. 5 were forwards. 6 times in 8 drafts their first selection was a forward. The Habs are all over the map in their first round strategy. Scoring has been a need for as long as I can remember (2008 was a blip, I admit) and the team is still drafting big Dmen.

3) Don’t be precious about prospects
Philly has had its fair share of name prospects pass through over the years. Once they may have been precious about them, but their recent attitude seems to treat them like assets until they are established. Pitkanen keeps getting mentioned and he was one. He was turned into Lupul, essentially. Other prospects that have been leveraged include Upshall, Sbisa and Lupul himself. A sentimentalist might have kept these and missed the opportunity their trading presented.

Montreal fans get very precious about prospects. Some still lament McDonagh and Valentenko. No one wants to throw away a prospect in a bad trade, but holding onto an average prospect may leave you with an average team.

4) Salary cap, schmalary cap
I’ve said cap space is overrated. Philly walks the walk. They pay the price for big parts of a team and they often go very close or over the cap. On at least one occasion, they’ve had to call in amateurs to avoid actually exceeding the payroll limit.

With penalties for going over so slack, and opportunities to bury salary in long recoveries from injury, it seems one way to create good depth is to rehab a ton of salary for the playoffs. Montreal missed the boat on this by pressing Markov to return and not insisting earlier on Gorges’ surgery. Both might have been available for later along with the depth their salary space would have left. Instead, Montreal lines the Molsons pockets as it carries cap space month over month.

5) Goaltender not cast as hero/savior, a real possibility
Philly doesn’t just happen into these goalies, they have made the choice to put money elsewhere. This year it’s Leighton, Boucher and Bobrovsky, last year it was Emery and co., Biron before that, and on into eternity. Philly hasn’t been able to hold a candle to the goaltending the Canadiens have put forward in the last two decades. Yet Philly has often been contending and making deep playoff runs, while goalie-driven Montreal has not.

Having a good goalie is not a weakness, but perhaps overpaying for one is. Turning goalie money into an extra goal for a game will pay the bills when good = 92% of saves and bad = 90% of saves.


This article could be way off. Philly made the Stanley Cup final last year, yes. But they barely made the playoffs and didn’t really beat anyone too good (sorry Habs fans). What’s more, their 69 points today is actually only 10 points out of 7th (hello Montreal) and their lack of goaltending could yet topple them from their perch.

Still, I think these lessons are good ones. They are not the only rules of operation, but rather 5 among many that Philly have exploited to find a bit of success and bottle it. They’re also good ones as there’s nothing stopping a team like Montreal from approaching things from this way right away. No one is saying they need to lose for 6 seasons (Oilers) to win, or anything.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Fear Of Precedence

Sometimes life and fan life collide.

Last week, ended for me on Friday with a rebuff of a new idea I had brought forward. Saturday ended a week of hockey in a similar way. The common theme was establishment of precedence and the pervasive fear that surrounds it.

It wasn’t the first time I have had a proposal rebuffed for the danger of the precedent it could set. Sometimes, no matter how perfect the fit, an idea just has to die for this reason. Similarly, I thought, the ideas that were floating around in the build-up to Saku Koivu’s first game back in Montreal.

Leading up to that game, there were many suggestions that the team might do something special to honour a special player in the history of the Canadiens. I was actually quite giddy in the buildup, as I anticipated something fitting from the organization that used to have a knack for gauging these events just right.

Instead, what the Canadiens offered was a video montage of a few seconds. More than that, it only showed the April 2002 ovation and none of his other moments in Montreal. It was a sad-sack effort considering what they’ve been able to pull off in the past. Luckily for the Canadiens brass, the fans still remember how to show a bit of class and picked up the mantle by giving a proper ovation anyway and then clogging the popularity contest lines with Koivu votes. As if to complete their complete fumble, the organization (who incidentally does claim they have the right to review 3 star choices and adjust) decided they’d stick to their idiotic policy of naming the OT goalscorer the first star. This despite the fact that the goal was:
a) Scored in a shootout
b) Ignored the actual stars of the game (well this rule does)
c) Went completely against the fans wishes for a special honour bestowed on Saku

And what for?

For precedence.

Worried perhaps that the honouring a returning player for another team would set a dangerous precedent in a time when the number of such players is high. Worried perhaps that all future captains will need to have some sort of ceremonious return. Worried that perhaps their 3 star system won’t be respected if contravened for this special case.

Hogwash. It’s total pig swill. None of these concerns are founded. The organization needed to recognize what a special case that Koivu was. 15 years from draft to departure with this team. Most of 13 years as the face of the franchise and the best player on the ice from game to game. 10 full years as the captain.

This game, this return, will likely be the last opportunity that the Canadiens have for a very long time to honour such a player. The bigger league, salary cap and all have changed the landscape. Teams aren’t always going to be able to hold their top players when they need leverage to rebuild. Teams will have trouble giving progressive raises without intervention from the lower free agency limits. And that’s to say nothing of the ten year captaincy. Or the player that Koivu was.

The team tripped up big time here. They didn’t need to do much other than nod to the significance of the event. They couldn’t even manage that small ask. This was a too-many-men-on-the-ice-type penalty for the management.


On that note, I’ll segue into another similar discussion: what to do on Koivu’s retirement.

Those of you who’ve commented on our banner, and read our praise for the player know that this blog is not far from camping with those who would call for a sweater retirement for the captain of a decade. And this discussion is a discussion of precedence if there ever was one. There are precedents to be followed and precedents that could be set.

On following precedents. Koivu doesn’t come close to meeting the precedents that have been set in terms of trophies, Cups, or even statistics for any of those occupying the rafters. On these precedents alone, it’s a non-starter. But hockey is not baseball. Statisticians in hockey will tell you this. It cannot be measured by some algorithm for greatness. Hockey is a game that is imperfectly measured by statistics kept by the league. My case for Koivu would include us using our collective memories to recall the games where he led and played well without a single point for the gamelog. There were many games like this.
What’s more, these honours bestowed were not based on statistics alone, were they? The great honour was weighed in many ways. And so it should, in due time, with Koivu.

On the precedents it will set. I say precedents be damned. Exceptions are the prerogative of this organization in making these decisions. They are the prerogative of the fans who ask for the recognition. If the sweater retirement is to be discussed, that doesn’t mean that a door is opened to every player who ever scored 600 points, or every player that had long tenure. Koivu is Koivu is Koivu. He was and is special. The ovations showed that. And that’s all that needs to be said.


So don’t fear precedents. Yes Koivu now has more domes this season than Tom Pyatt. There’s nothing to fear in that.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Game #49

Saku Wins; Helps Us Get A Point

Details



Date: 22/1/2011
Opponent: Ducks
Location: Montreal

Loss: 3-4 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Hiller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty (2), Darche
Opposition goalscorers: Fowler, Ryan (1, SO), Perry



Play of the game


The comeback goal, was of course a highlight for the Habs, but if we look at the event on a whole then the play of the game has to be the ovations that Saku got. He got a huge ovation before the first face-off and then another when he was announced as the second star (robbed of the first star thanks to Habs' questionable policy of making OT goalscorers (even in the shootout), regardless of how they played, the first star). It was great to see how much Montreal means to him and how much he means to Montreal. Who knows, maybe one day he'll be back.




Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
There was some great fight from MaxPac tonight and it paid off with two goals. 3 in 2 nights is a lot better than any Hamilton call-up would (or has) done which is why it is great that Tuesday's injury wasn't as bad as initially expected. If he keeps playing like this until, and when, Camms is back we'll be quite alright.

Tomas Plekanec
He only got one assist tonight, but I thought played a very good game. He was instrumental on the tying goal which got the Habs an always welcome point. There were a lot of chances which developed thanks to his quick foot speed, all of which made him look so much better than Anaheim's defencemen.

Saku Koivu
Why not? Two years of not being able to write in here about him, I may as well now. Saku didn't have the best game, but I'd have him on the ice all night as he invoked so many special memories. Every time that I heard his name it took me a second to remember that he didn't play for us; I guess it still hasn't sunk in. He certainly contributed to the Habs success tonight as his 3 penalties led to 2 PP goals, one of which was the tying goal. Iam sure that he was thrilled that both teams got points as both teams need him. For you purists, I have chosen a third Hab for the dome and Topham has the selection marked in his statistics.

Defencemen

PK Subban
There were times that PK looked pretty awkward tonight on some of his pivots, but those low points were overshadowed by his strong offensive presence. He attempted an incredible 16 shots which shows just how much this kid wants to shoot. Only 6, however, got through, so he is still having that same release problem, but I do think that it is getting better. He has so much energy and is so fit that I am glad he is getting tons of ice time. He should be able to chew up a lot of regular season minutes as resting our veterans in the press-box isn't a very likely scenario with the injuries, so we have to find ways to get their ice-time down.

James Wisniewski
I wasn't a huge fan of the Wis tonight in his own end, but did like what he did in their half. Hammer, Spacek and Gill all showed signs of fatigue tonight so it was good that James was good to go. In fact, he played a whopping 30 minutes and was able to kill a big chunk of our D's ice-time. Knowing that, in general, he can hold his own in all aspects of play makes using him that much quite a good thing.

Goaltender

Carey Price
This was an average game from Price, but certainly he did enough to make the dome. I can't say that he really stood out for being that bad or that good tonight, he kind of just blended in. Knowing that he doesn't get a week for the All-Star break off (like his teammates) may have been good reason to give him last night against Ottawa off (I mean, I could have been in nets and we still would have won), but that is done. I may rest him on Tuesday, but have a strong feeling that JM won't.


Comments


It was funny that Lapierre got booed tonight. The former poster-boy of this club probably didn't expect that, but apparently we boo anyone who used to play for us (other than Saku). I suppose that I am not that surprised myself, though, as he did request a trade and made a lot of people think that he thought he was way better than he was. Maybe he thought that he was the type of player that we saw last April/May and not the one that we saw the other 120 games of the past 2 seasons. The night was still Koivu night, though, and Max's appearance didn't really matter.

There was still hockey to be played, though, and early on the Habs weren't doing much of that. Luckily for us, however, the Ducks weren't firing on all cylinders so on the game went. On a whole we probably ended up playing better than them, and Hiller better than Price, so a tie was just about right. We have one more game before the break and it would be nice to pick up points, but road games in Philly are never that easy. Win or lose, however, won't really matter. What matters is that after 50 games we will have at least 59 points in the bank (a 97-point pace). The 32 games after the break will certainly be tough, but I honestly believe that our fate is in our own hands. If we want to make the playoffs, there is no reason to believe that we won't.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Game #48

Wow, It Really Is That Bad In The Capital

Details



Date: 21/1/2011
Opponent: Senators
Location: Ottawa

Win:7-1

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Brodeur (L), Elliott

Habs goalscorers: Pouliot, Plekanec (2), Gionta, Pacioretty, Kostitsyn, Subban
Opposition goalscorers: Kelly



Play of the game


Let's choose a goal, shall we? I felt that the nicest goal, the one that had the most to do with our good play
(and not the goalie's poor play) was Plekanec's second. At the blue-line he stole the puck from Phillips (sadly for Ottawa Phillips has become one of the worst deals in the league, I mean who knew he couldn't play D?) and did very well to get the puck to his stick. With incredible speed he went in on Elliott and did what I wish all Habs would do in the shootout as he shelfed the puck so quickly and efficiently that the goalie really had no chance.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei did very well in his first full game back with Plekanec. He had a very nice pass early on, on Plekanec's first, and then scored a goalscorer's goal for his 13th. He also led the team in takeaways and +/-and just generally looked comfortable the whole night.

Scott Gomez
Gomez set up his line's two goals very nicely as he now finds himself one assist shy of 20. He isn't having a great season, but is doing what one would generally expect of a 2nd centre (forget the start, forget the salary). If Pacioretty can continue to play like he did tonight (and do it against good defence) then he'll just keep making Scott look good, but will it be enough to quiet those that have already seen enough?

Tomas Plekanec - Game Puck
Plekanec probably could have had 5 points tonight if he had kept going at the Sens. He didn't really push it too hard, though, and seemed more concerned with playing smart, classy and efficiently than scoring the hat-trick. We often think of his as a playmaking centre, but now at 16 goals one has to wonder how close to 30 he could get? 25 seems a strong possibility at the very least.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Since this game was all about offence I went with the only defenceman that scored a goal. Sure, the goal was on the PP and it was our 7th, but in a way I like that. Why not keep working on things for the whole 60 minutes? Embarrassing to Ottawa and their fans that we drove up the score? Come on, if you want something to be embarrassed about, Ottawa, take a look at your depth charts.

James Wisniewski
James was the most on the ball of our D tonight, I felt. He picked a couple of helpers (albeit neither really had anything to do with the goals) and led the team in blocked-shots. One thing I do really like about him is that he moves the puck quickly on the PP and that he opens so much space up for his teammates. At age 26 he was quite the pick-up (try getting a 2nd rounder that good) and it may just be worth considering a re-signing this summer as he and Markov on the PP together would be lethal.

Goaltender

Carey Price
33 saves? When? Ottawa was bad tonight and Carey made sure that they didn't get lucky. Losing this game would be near impossible, but it still takes a focused goalie to make sure that a romp stays a romp and that we don't end up letting in a few that we shouldn't have.


Comments


I have been reading about Ottawa, but, boy, I didn't know that they were this bad. That was a pathetic display, and, from what undertstand, this was par for the course. The whole orginization has made poor choices over the past ten years and they have turned one of the most promissing teams in the league into one of the most laughable. Heatley for Michalek and Cheechoo? What is that? How is that your best offer? Redden over Chara? Not taking Hasek back? Trading for Leclaire? Spezza at 7mil? Disastrous and disappointing for a team just down the road that I would like to see succeed.

Montreal didn't play a bad game, but this was hardly a good gauge of anything other than how many Habs fans can fit in a Kanata arena on a Friday night. Tomorrow will be a better test. Tomorrow, however, is so much more than a hockey game. Tomorrow marks the return of one of our heroes and of our best player of the past 15 years. Think of that, for 15% of this team's existence, and a very big percentage of all of our times as Habs fans Koivu was the man. He was not only a great player, but had so much class and dignity that one didn't feel silly mentioning him in the same breathe as Beliveau. I am excited to see our hero come home, but also sad once again. It was hard losing him (imagine Alfie leaving the Sens) and having him in Anaheim made it easier. I think that his true home is in Montreal and tomorrow is his first time back in his house. I do hope that somehow, down the road, there will be a way to bring this warrior back into the organization in one capacity or another because he, as a person, and as a hockey player, inspired a generation. Without the likes of Koivu my guess is that LIW would have never started and I wouldn't be the fan that I am today. It will always be Montreal for me, above all, but at the same time there will always be room in my heart, wherever he may go, for Saku.

Habs Precariously Shallow Up Front

What you know is that the Canadiens imported Ryan White and Andreas Engqvist from Hamilton to cover for flu and other injuries to the forwards on the beat up Habs.

What you knew is that this team alredy starts rookies Lars Eller and David Desharnais to go with depthy forwards like Tom Pyatt.

What perhaps you didn't know is that this isn't far from the absolute limit of the Canadiens organizational depth.

Yesterday, I read an interesting piece from Ron Reusch that raised a red flag for me. It was addressing the promotion of Dany Masse, and what it meant:
With those three forwards out, and now losing Engqvist, it’s forced the Bulldogs to get some help, as well. The problem is the Canadiens/Bulldogs really only have one forward left in their system that isn’t already here or up in Montreal.

That’s Dany Masse, who has one goal and eight assists in 29 games with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. Masse, a left-winger, played one game with the Dogs earlier this year and was held pointless. So they called him up.

This is the full depth chart as I can tell:



Not promising for the Habs. I guess it's really a Bulldogs level problem, actually. Not a problem that can't be resolved with a minor league signing, but all the same, it illustrates why Andreas Engqvist is joining the Montreal Canadiens and David Desharnais is suddenly a third line player.

You will note that on the big team, this is a big thing. one significant injury and it's suddenly 4 rookies in the line up with a few second years.


What to do?

I didn't write this piece because I had a good idea for a solution here. I just wanted to show the depth chart, which I hadn't really been thinking about. I don't have any great new ideas, and I'm still cold on trading to get someone in at the top end of this chart (risk:benefit stuff). Maybe Hamilton just needs to restock in case the Habs need Palushaj or Maxwell...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Know When To Fold 'Em

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away...

When Andrei Markov went down with injury, this team was a franchise defenceman away from being a contender in most eyes. They've done a solid rendition of being a contender at times without him, though.

Then, December. Josh Gorges out.

Now, January and Cammalleri is gone for a good old length of time.

These are not just three injuries. They are three deep cutting injuries. Markov can't be replaced, not in this league, not without surrendering much more than a 2nd rounder. Gorges at his his best is hard to find in a package lying around the trade tables too. Cammalleri is one of those pure scorers at his best, that only comes to market once every few years, not more.

Since Cammalleri got hurt a couple of days ago, there has been an explosion of talk about who will replace him. There is cap space (if the GM files for it), there is a roster place. It's understandable.

My question at this point: What for?


Kenny Rogers may have known a thing or two about poker coming from Texas. Maybe he didn't. He sure wrote like he knew something. Poker is a game of hands. Winning one hand does not mean winning or losing the next. A sensible poker player has to understand that not every hand is winnable, that knowing when to fold is just as important as all the other tricks and skills learned.

Hockey GMs aren't strictly speaking gamblers. They don't need to be if they do their legwork. But to an extent, hockey for a GM is like the game of poker. A season is a hand, the organizational chart is the chips at his disposal. He has to recognize a team that can win, and importantly one that can't. If he can't do this, a GM risks betting his chips on a team that never had a chance (see Burke, Brian).


So, what for?

I ask what for, because with three injuries on the roster, two season-ending, one happening during a critical phase, one has to come clean and start asking whether this team, this one:

Pacioretty - Gomez - Gionta
Eller - Plekanec - Kostitsyn
Pouliot - Halpern - Darche
Pyatt - Desharnais - Moen

Wisniewski - Hamrlik
Spacek - Weber
Subban - Gill

Price
Auld


has any real chance of making the playoffs, and much more importantly contending when they get there.

I presume those who call for a trade think not. Let's say then Pyatt is replaced by the winger who another team doesn't want enough to trade for Ben Maxwell, or a third round pick, or the rights to Alexei Emelin. Does that make the difference?

How is this team going to overcome Pittsburgh and Washington without the element of surprise?
How will they score on Philadelphia?
How will they match Boston over 7 games?
How do they defend Stamkos and St. Louis over a whole series?

That's just the East...


I don't want to be a downer. I'm a big believer in timing and good fortune. I'm a believer that we have players who can crank it up a notch, who know the playoffs better than those on other teams. But even with that, I don't see this team as a better version of last year's team. Do you?


It's for that reason that I hope Gauthier doesn't do anything too drastic to try and save a season at the expense of his next four goes around. If Kaberle can be had for a 5th rounder, or a decent option comes up on waivers, then by all means. It's the big trade I fear could hurt.

I hope he knows when to fold 'em.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Game #47

More Quality Refereeing On Display Tonight

Details



Date: 18/1/2011
Opponent: Sabres
Location: Buffalo

Loss: 1-2 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Miller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Desharnais
Opposition goalscorers: Ennis, Pominville



Play of the game


You don't see this type of play often, so I thought that it had to be mentioned. The play of the game really has two parts though, the play, and the touching aftermath. The play happened when Price was beat, there to make the save, however, was Subban who slid across and saved the day. The very warm moment that followed was when Price put his glove over PK's head and them tapped him on the bum to thank him for a job well done. How sweet.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Brian Gionta

Brian played well throughout this one, especially in the offensive zone. I haven't seen him in so many scrums all year and I think that was a captain telling his team that no matter how many players were missing this team was here to play.

Scott Gomez
I thought that Scott was a warrior tonight. Like Gionta, he was very active in Buffalo's end and was very involved after the whistle. I have never seen him so angry as when he was called for high-sticking in the dying minutes. Can't blame him though, wouldn't you too be upset if you were the guy called out to allow Buffalo to complete the comeback.

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks was our best forward tonight and did it without Cammalleri by his side. He led the team in shots and was also very effective on the PK. He had one play at the end which basically enabled us to go to OT as he single-handedly held the puck in Buffalo's end as the clocked ticked up to 60.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK made the game-saver which was his highlight in this one. It was, however, back to big wind-ups as he must have forgotten just how hard and accurate his wrister can be. He again logged the most minutes on the team and rightly so as he was our best defender out there. I am becoming very pleased with his work on the PK as it always seems like an unexpected surprise.

Yannick Weber
This was the best game that I have seen Weber play in the last little while. Tonight he didn't stand out as a rookie, but instead looked like a very good, NHL-ready, D-man. He is moving the puck well and is also playing soundly in his own end. His 4 blocked-shots led the team and his penalty can be forgiven as it was bound to be someone in white getting called.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
Price played a great game tonight and, thanks to him, is the reason that we are heading home with an extra point in the bank. Buffalo didn't put forth their best effort, but it was enough that a lesser goalie may not have held up. I feel bad for him on the winner as what could he really have done? An OT penalty, I mean it is almost as though the refs did want to affect the outcome.


Comments


Tonight there are built-in excuses like you wouldn't believe. The first has to be that we are tired after last night's win. Then, the fact that we lost 3 forwards early, 3 effective forwards that is. The last excuse has to be that the officiating was, yet again, a joke. After the first period it was 4 PPs for them and none for us. I could live with that (and would welcome it) if Eller wasn't hit from behind and cross-checked 3 times in a row, if Gaustad and Vanek got out of Price's way, if Gaustad stopped hitting everyone and everything after the whistle and if Gerbe (who?) didn't fake his way to a call with a minute to play. As long as the reffing is like this then the team getting the calls will always have the advantage. We had a good chance to win, despite this charade, and did well to only let in 2. The end result is an OT loss against a pretty pathetic team, though, so all is not lost. More importantly will be finding out how our players are and if we'll need Dustin Boyd to rescue us or not.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Game #46

Suddenly Subban!

Details



Date: 17/1/2011
Opponent: Flames
Location: Montreal

Win: 5-4 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Auld, Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Kiprusoff, Karlsson (L)

Habs goalscorers: Eller, Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, Halpern, Subban
Opposition goalscorers: Bourque, Bouwmeester, Kotalik, Tanguay



Play of the game


The best play (from a non-timing perspective) had to be the goal that put the Habs up by two. We had just killed off a Cammalleri penalty and it was he who ended up scoring the goal. It takes a few things to happen to get a breakaway out of the box. You need their D to forget about you, you need your team to be aware of the situation and you need to get yourself in a good position to get a pass. All of those happened and with a great pass from Halpern, Camms was in alone. The shot that came was the type of shot that we need Mike to be taking and need him to be scoring; it was simply blistering.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Andrei Kostitsyn

Andrei scored tonight and was probably unlucky to only get one. He was strong throughout the entire game whether it was helping out in his own end or making things happen in their end. He led the team in shots and hits and was one non-Subban OT winner away from a Game Puck.

Jeff Halpern
This one was a toss-up between Jeff and Gomez. I really liked Gomez's offensive play tonight as there were a few great passes; especially his assist on the winner. Both players also did well in the face-off circle (JH: 7-4, SG: 13-2), but I gave it to Jeff as he scored what turned out to be a very crucial goal. His goal is a great lesson in why you should never, ever let up. He, like Scott, also made a great pass as it was Halpern that fed Camms with the long bomb when Mike was out of the box.

Tomas Plekanec
Early on in this one Pleks was by far our best player. He continued to play well throughout, but other players rose up too. He was such a force down low and in the corners as he was winning battles, creating chances and simply dominating those covering him. His whole line played well tonight and that is what you need from your top line when there are crucial games, like tonight's, on the line.

Defencemen
PK Subban
- Game Puck
Had Wisniewski not broken his stick, rushed to the bench and had the puck come to his feet then PK would have never jumped on the ice. Had that never happened then PK would have basically had the perfect game tonight. He was making great defensive plays all game, played well on the PK and PP and added an exclamation point with a thrilling OT winner. The goal, his fourth, is a highlight of what is becoming a very good season for the rookie. Points aside, if he plays like this from now on (27+ minutes tonight) then he'll have to be a favourite for the Calder.

Hal Gill
Hal is playing better with PK beside of him and so is PK. It just shows that not every partnership (Gill-Gorges) is always the best fit, even if it is a very good fit. He did cough the puck up on Bouwmeester's goal, but like PK that was his one big mistake in an otherwise good game. He and PK both played 6+ minutes of shorthanded hockey and both did an excellent job of keeping the Flames at bay (0/4).

Goaltender

Carey Price
Auld was given what every goalie dreams about; a 4-goal lead and the sound of iron ringing in his ears. I would say that the Canadiens were lucky to be up by so much early and Auld's luck, unfortunately was the first to run out. 4 goals over a 9:30 span were enough for JM to watch and in came Price. Carey only faced 4 shots, but did what he had to. I think that Mr. Auld was lucky that we scored and that they kept hitting the post, but also that we won; people will be quick to forget this off-game. I hope.


Comments


Calgary showed tonight why they are in the basement over in the West (the Oilers are beneath the foundation...). It started with weak goaltending, but it quickly became apparent that their defence was weak too. Add that to the fact that they have a weak offence and all of a sudden it adds up. In fact it reminds me so much of what we have seen, at times, from the Habs over the past 20 years. Tonight's game will never be one that is remembered for its defensive tone or goaltending as both teams struggled to really impose any sort of system. It is, therefore, lucky that we did win in the end as the Habs, when forced to play another team's game, can sometimes lose the picture. It was certainly lost at times, but when Calgary scored that fourth goal it was almost like a blessing. With the tying goal they went to sleep and we woke up. In fact, I believe that had they scored that goal 5-10 minutes later we may have had a hard time re-taking control of the game.

In the end Subban put home a wonderful shot and we can all go home happy. The best part, of everything, for me has to be how we scored goals 2, 3 and 5. All of those were hard and precise shots that came from 3 of our top players. Those 3 players can all be huge difference makers and when they play like they did tonight they are just that. We'll next see Calgary in a month when we face-off outdoors and if, by that time, we are still on about these three players (for good reasons) then we should be right back to where we want to be in the standings.

Price vs. Price

40 Games By Stats

Carey Price just played his 40th game of the season on Saturday night. An accomplishment in itself for the oft-beleaguered netminder of 2009. As it happens 40 games provides an interesting point to have a more in-depth look at Carey's stats.

As a whole, we rated Carey as a solid A last week, and heard arguments for A-. Overall, I think we'd all have to admit there's been some brilliant goaltending along the way. That's not to say there aren't lingering concerns from our previous roller coaster seasons with the young goalie. Is this an excellent season? Or did Carey just have one excellent stretch? On to the stats...


The 20-20 dichotomy

The 20th the game of the season was Carey Price's 4th shutout. It propelled him to unthinkable numbers: 2.05 GAA and 0.932 Sv%. It was his 19th dome in 19 starts. 12 wins from 19. Critics, we heard were silenced.

At the turn of the 40th, that 31st save clinched a 22nd win and firmed his above average output of 2.37 in GAA and 0.919 in Sv%. At 40 games it is still critic-silencing stuff. He's a winning goalie challenging in important stats categories. Yet his early excellence prompts some examination.

What does it take to get from 0.932 to 0.919? How many goals a game does a goalie have to allow to slip from 2.05 every 60 minutes to 2.37?




Team output?

This is the favourite of many. While it is certainly true that in some games Carey received incredibly poor support from his teammates. the averages tell us that it went both ways. In fact, if you look below, you can see that the Habs scored more goals, allowed fewer shots and fewer chances over the 20 games. If all else was equal, one might have expected a stabilization in stats, if not an improvement.

Looking at things this way is far too simplistic, i realise. But it remains that this is one of the things to examine in this puzzle. It is not the main part of any explanation it seems, from a quick check at least.




A return to earth?

Some stats, no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, are probably just too good to be true. In stats circles, there's endless talk about regression to the mean (they don't like Tim Thomas all the time). In Carey's case, the stat that stood out like a sore thumb was his SHSv%. Over the years I have kept an eye on these things, and can tell you that anything over 0.850 in this category is exceptional. For a goalie to post 0.917 over a season would thoroughly smash established marks and norms. All to say, it probably wasn't going to last.

Since the 20 game mark, Carey has posted a very very good 0.869 on the PK. However, the return to very good from out of this world is at least partially responsible for the drop in all numbers.




A slip in preparation?

At the beginning of the season (at least after those preseason debacles), I marvelled at Carey Price's preparation. Every game, he would come in and just look an impenetrable fortress. His numbers tell the tale.

Below are two charts. The first shows his stats by period. One can see clearly here that in the first twenty games, Carey was truly outstanding at the beginning of games. Over 0.948 for two periods. The second chart shows the stats I have been tracking on when goals go in. Again, Carey was just amazing at Game 20 here. He was allowing the first goal only after an average of nearly 15 shots were taken (and nearly 7 quality scoring chances) -- this gave him game starting numbers of 0.937 and 0.869 for chances. Both outstanding.

But has something happened? The second twenty show little change in play after the second period, but now Carey is a 0.910ish goalie in the first frames. What's more, he's been allowing goals after just 9 shots instead of 15, and 3.6 chances instead of 6.65, dropping his starting game numbers significantly.





Perhaps this is only luck, or a regression to the mean as well. But I'd swear that he's looked different.


The next 20 games are critical

This is all very interesting, but I don't think this sample answers many questions for us just yet. I find it too difficult to dissect from the numbers just now. The slip in preparation teamed with a return to earth seem most likely to hold the key explanation, but we've yet to see.

The biggest question has to be about what that first stretch of the season was. Was it a pleasant surprise? A fortuitously timed one-off streak? Or was it Carey taking his play to a new level? The next 20 games will help us answer which streak (the incredible one or the latest below average spell of ten games) is the real outlier in his play.

For anyone who watched those first 20-30 games as closely as I did, it is tempting to suggest that the real Carey Price played in October and November. But getting real answers takes time. This is an interim update, the final analysis is yet to come.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Canadien

Wow, I don't think anyone could have anticipated anything quite as awful as this: The Canadien. At least he looks like Cobra Commander.


I know you readers have more in you. I got you started and some have joined in. The comments start here, but add them to this post if you like.

Here's some starting points:

The Canadien
Fleet-footed protector of the city of Montreal. He uses his knowledge of languages to mock the other Guardians when they are not looking. Can't hear their mocking back, rings in ears.

The Habitant

Moustachioed protector of Ville Marie. Uses his gaudy rings and numerous banners to blind and smother other Guardians as he protects the Stanley Cup.

The Selke
Sends powerful snubs to his arch-enemies in Toronto with his control over all hockey talent in the world.

The Tremblay
Shift-changing form who can change from plucky forward, to offensive defenceman to incompetent coach at a moment's notice. Other Guardians can't track him down, even though he's listed in the Montreal phonebook.


This is your chance to outdo the great Stan Lee (or at least the marketing department of the NHL) on a rare occasion in character creation. The bar is low, so don't hold back.


On a side note, now I can't wait to see how inane the next 15 can be. The Maple Leaf should be truly awful, goodness knows what the Senator's power will be - holding up legislation?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Game #45

Habs Surge To Take Points From Playoff Rival

Details


Date: 15/1/2011
Opponent: Rangers
Location: Montreal



Win: 3-2

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Lundqvist (L)

Habs goalscorers: Hamrlik, Plekanec, Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Boyle, Zuccarello



Play of the game


PK Subban came alive on the PP tonight. Of all the elements of the game we probably were expecting to see after his junior and AHL careers, this has taken the longest to come. With Wisniewski being guarded, PK can get the clear shots. On one early opportunity he showed that he's not just a pretty face though, a he faked that clear shot and instead picked out a fully open Plekanec. Pleks had a little work to do to control the pass, but otherwise had a gaping net to shoot at. Beautiful. Pierre Houde said it was flashes of Brisebois and Markov? I think he meant Markov.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Brian Gionta
Noticeable on nearly every shift. he once again led in shots, but that's no barometer for Brian - he always does at least that. What I particularly enjoyed was his ability to shake defenders like "all-star" Staal with ease to win deep puck and keep the play alive.

Mathieu Darche
I wouldn't go quite to the lengths of some professional commentators to heap on praise, but Darche played well. He was critically involved in the two quick comeback goals and made sure the PP was outstanding all night through. He played a decent few shifts at ES too, though his best work came on 5 minutes of well-earned PP action.

Andrei Kostitsyn
Whatever happens next practice, someone make sure Andrei gets some time to chat to Jacques Martin. Whatever was said seemed to work as Andrei was back to finding his old form. His goal was a predator's goal and a critical one in retrospect. The best part is he had better chances than that. I think he'll appreciate both the goals and the vote of confidence from the 500 or so fans who bother to pay Bell to choose 3 stars.

Defencemen

PK Subban - Game Puck
Some outstanding moments at either end of the ice tonight for PK. We've noted the play of the game. The PP was eye-catching all game and PK was a big part of that as he kept hard passes in, distributed and even got shots through on Lundqvist. At the back, he was a welcome change from the easy dump out as he took responsibility several times to get the puck all the way out of the trouble areas.

James Wisniewski
Playing the most minutes on a team he wasn't even a part of three weeks ago. this is impressive stuff. Critical to PP success, despite not a shot from his stick, keeping the puck in and offering the omnipresent threat to open space for others. His defending (apart from that crazy late pass) was mostly sound as well, and I've started to appreciate his stand up checks on players who used to go around previous Habs.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Earning a dome tonight with some game savers along the way. It was a game full of everything for Carey. Great highlight saves, great positional saves, that good puck handling Subdoxtastic raved about, the questionable puck handling we ranted about and another win celebration. This wasn't the ice cold Carey of November, but the way he battled for a win, especially late, who really cares?


Comments

Another early hole didn't get the team down, as they continue to play comeback kids for the New Year. I don't like the recipe, but if their answer to an early deficit is always an impressive surge as it was tonight, I won't question the approach.

The most impressive element of the win tonight for me was the way the PP really seemed to thrive. Those I watched the game with at home were particularly taken with the attractive passing and the productive tactics the Canadiens employed. Really, were it not for Lundqvist (and I'm not just saying this) the game would have been done and dusted well before the end of 2 periods.

The third period is going to produce a lot of rants (I write this instead of watching the spew from l'Antichambre) because the Canadiens appeared to lose it. But one could look at it another way. The Habs have to learn to hang on under pressure, just as they needed to get more experience on coming from behind. The win is positive. The fact they hung on is positive. Yes, we'd all prefer a stroll to the finish with a dominant display of blue line stopping checking, but in close games, it sometimes just won't happen.

It's especially positive as a win in light of the opponent. I said the other day, and I don't want to retract, that the Habs will be in a fight for the playoffs. I predict that one of the teams will be the Rangers. Points from teams in direct rivalry for those last points for post-season entry are like gold. This may yet be a clincher if we look back in April.

Who Will Montreal's Guardian Be?

Back in the fall, the NHL announced that Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman, had teamed up with them (paid too much to refuse teaming up) to create 30 new superheroes called the Guardians (nothing to do with the Guardian newspaper).

On January 1st, the NHL and The Guardian project began revealing the Guardians one at a time from the cities around the league.

This got me thinking, what will the Habs Guardian look like. What will his name be? What will his special powers be? It's worth examining...


From 14 examples, I think we can start to extract some ground rules here:

1) The name of the guardian can be as creative as you want, provided you only use the team name with or without the "s"

2) This will be true no matter how inapplicable the name is for a superhero (see Wild, the)

3) The guardian will be wearing, or have made into a tunic, the team's uniform.

4) The guardian's powers will be drawn from a combination of animal traits or local economic/cultural activities

5) This is unless nothing happens where the team is located, so the Guardian does something to do with weather


With these rules in mind, I thought the creative readers of this blog could come up with a range of Guardians to put the eventual CANADIEN to shame.

Here are a few to get you started on the format:

The Canadien
Fleet-footed protector of the city of Montreal. He uses his knowledge of languages to mock the other Guardians when they are not looking. Can't hear their mocking back, rings in ears.

The Habitant
Moustachioed protector of Ville Marie. Uses his gaudy rings and numerous banners to blind and smother other Guardians as he protects the Stanley Cup.

The Selke
Sends powerful snubs to his arch-enemies in Toronto with his control over all hockey talent in the world.

The Tremblay
Shift-changing form who can change from plucky forward, to offensive defenceman to incompetent coach at a moment's notice. Other Guardians can't track him down, even though he's listed in the Montreal phonebook.


Do your worst...

First Half Check-Up

Other Forwards

Finally, the checking forwards. our supposed depth. For posterity, here's how they did in the second 20 game stretch of the season.

Legend:

G, A, Pts, Dome - you know already
PM - Plus/minus
Ch +/- - Differential in scoring chances at even strength
Fenwick - Shots and missed shots for minus those against at ES
Corsi - Shots, missed shots and blocked shots for minus those against at ES


Jeff Halpern

Grade:

B+

Jeff was a different player in the first twenty games than he was in the second. That said, the surprise from him was the first twenty and not the second twenty. Even if he's no longer an offensive contributor, he still brings what the team supposedly sought when they signed him -- a solid NHLer who can play in a few different roles.




Mathieu Darche

Grade:

A-

Darche has had a very nice second quarter season. Playing from a variety of lines, he has more often than not provided a spark. Have a look at his Corsi and Fenwick columns to see that he completely outclassed whoever he was on against. The trouble that remains is that for all this, he is even in plus minus -- perhaps witness to the fact he is still a third line type scorer. Still an incredible asset to have found in the way the team did.




Travis Moen

Grade:

C+

Moen is quite a consistent player. I would never expect a horrible game from him. Nor would I expect to be blown away. When the team signed Travis, it was thought he could contribute in small bits when the other forwards might be on down cycles. I think we now know that is not what he can do. You hope in a slump that the 4th line might provide some spark. instead in these back to earth 20 games, Travis was outchanced as badly as almost anyone else.




Tom Pyatt


Grade:

B-

Last time I said something about how every team needs a player that can just play a responsible game, not get scored on and take a small salary for doing it. Pyatt does that. I don't have much more to say about him.



Lars Eller

Grade:

B+

Eller's been doing a lot of things right. Ultimately, though, at some point he has to learn how to turn doing a lot of things right into numbers that will help the team -- pushed in goal here or there, a penalty drawn. Despite what looked like a good improvement on first quarter numbers, Eller actually gets a downgrade. This is because in the second quarter he was promoted on several occasions and just failed to seize the moment. I'm not talking about not scoring gamewinners here, I'm talking about the fact his play suffered when he was moved up a line. he needs to work this out to make the next level.




David Desharnais

Grade:

N/A

The cat may be out of the bag now, but at 41 games there wasn't much evidence. David shows extraordinary skill at times, but is yet to show the St. Louis or Briere ability to make us forget he is small. We need more time to view him.



Maxim Lapierre

Grade:

D

This is a bit of a different review. He's getting a D mostly because he proved himself to be an unreasonable person who took a lot for granted. For a guy who had a horrible first season with the coach and then followed with a horrible opening 20 games, I was a bit shocked to hear he asked for a trade because he felt cheated of ice time. I think at times we felt cheated because he was getting too much ice time, no? It's a shame that Max asked for that trade, i never thought self-interest was what he was about.




Dustin Boyd


Grade:

D

Not a very good start to his Habs career so far. And to be in the shadow of a player with 11 goals and 20-odd points makes it worse. Dustin can't get such a low mark for his play, but I can only surmise that in practice and elsewhere he can't have impressed the coaches too much, as there would have otherwise been plenty of opportunity for him to play a few more games. With depth being as thin as it is in Habsland, don't be too surprised if Boyd makes a glorious recovery from Hamilton and is called back into the team.




Friday, January 14, 2011

First Half Check-Up

Scoring Forwards

The scoring forwards are hanging on to that collective title by a thread lately. 20 games in, I don't think we saw it ending up here, but it has.

Here's where I thought the scoring forwards stood at the midway point.

Legend:

G, A, Pts, Dome - you know already
PM - Plus/minus
Ch +/- - Differential in scoring chances at even strength
Fenwick - Shots and missed shots for minus those against at ES
Corsi - Shots, missed shots and blocked shots for minus those against at ES


Tomas Plekanec

Grade:

A

An A is a lofty grade for a player on 64-point pace. But we mustn't forget that Tomas is so much more than points. Besides leading the team in points, assists, and often goals, he plays in a shutdown role and takes the brunt of the penalty killing duties. This stuff doesn't even show up in his gamelog because the sources that some stats are pulled from only seem to value ES. He's a coach's dream and the type of player you just can't buy in this league. We're fortunate to have have found him.



Michael Cammalleri

Grade:

B

Cammalleri's had many good games. However, the expectation for him is that he will be a threat, and often even a scorer and a difference-maker over many of the nights of hockey. Thus far, he hasn't really been that guy. The law of averages tells us that after the playoffs he had, he needed to endure a slower period like this. Even a player playing with Plekanec (as hot as he was at the beginning of the season) has not done too too well to basically put together two little streaks of productivity. The good news is that he's on track with his Fenwick trend, showing he is getting more shots through defenders than the opposition when he's on.



Andrei Kostitsyn

Grade:

B

This is a different kind of B than Mike's. Mike has been B all the way, whereas Andrei was easily an A through 20 games and has lost points through his slump. That remains an important distinction. Andrei has been excellent this season for a 20+ game stretch. How many can say that? Besides the tail off in goals, the reason to downgrade Andrei has to be the levelling off of his other metrics. While he's played well at times through his pointless games (see domes), he still could do better by finding the zip in his step and the killer look in his eye.



Scott Gomez

Grade:

B

Gomez kind of fell into a point streak in this second 20 games, After game 30, he was the prime offensive threat on the team for a stretch. Still, it does not elevate him from out of the B club. Again, this B is a very different kind. In November, Scott was rated a generous B- for the extra things he was doing en route to becoming the highest paid third centre in the league. We must take his play from Game 30 as hugely encouraging, however, as the shots on net stats show a very nice turnaround for his line lately.




Brian Gionta

Grade:

A-

Among the scoring forwards, his second 20 games was probably the best turnaround. When the team needed goals over the last 6 weeks, more often than not it was the captain chipping them in one way or another. He's a Corsi and Fenwick dream too, as he dominates his opponents in shots directed at the net (or just wide) when on the ice. For a team often missing oomph up front, and usually missing goal threats, he's a gem. A very good first half season as captain -- he's doing the C proud.




Max Pacioretty

Grade:

B+

I'm not sure has ever done so much to reinforce the notion that throwing the puck into the crease is the way to score. His first goal was an errant pass, I think 4 of his 5 points were. 5 points in 10 games is OK, but he doesn't get his mark for that. After all, some wouldn't score his goals or assists as scoring chances in the strictest sense (i.e., he got a tad lucky). All that aside, he has been a nice addition to the team. His new-found confidence has at least allowed him to unshackle his defensive tendency and play like a forward. During this stretch we needed that player.



Benoit Pouliot

Grade:

B+

The man without ice time has been the phantom of the scoring forwards. Strictly speaking, Ben should supersede Max and Kostitsyn when in a slump for minutes. There'd be a case to give him some of Cammalleri's minutes, I think too. What he's done with half a season for me is to establish that he's an NHL player, and even thinking about being a scorer in this league. I think all of that was in question last May. I'd like to see more flourishes from Ben, and timed so that martin has to try him with a proper feed. I think this B+ has the potential to go up if the right things happen.