Habs Analysis: A Team Effort

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By J.D. Lagrange, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Brickwall

As the NHL approaches the midway point of its season, teams have a better idea of where they are positioned in comparison to their peers. High hopes and expectations are materializing in some cases, or are being shattered in other cases as teams are getting set for their playoffs’ positioning.

PENTICTON, BC. – The Montreal Canadiens are no different and after finishing a perfect five game road trip, the team has a light calendar ahead of them this week with home games against conference rivals Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. This break will be a perfect time for players to lick their wounds, have a few good practices under their belt to prepare for those two match-ups while enjoying some well-deserved home cooking. And who knows? It might even allow team GM Marc Bergevin to tinker a bit with its line-up if the right deal comes about, as we saw the Penguins and Oilers do earlier this weekend.

While there is no denying that injuries often play a big role in a team’s success or lack of thereof, the Canadiens have been relatively healthy this season, even having the luxury of sitting two veteran defensemen, Mike Weaver and Brian Allen, for the past few games. They did lose right winger P-A Parenteau to an upper-body injury on the weekend which allowed Manny Malhotra to return to the line-up against Pittsburgh. Parenteau will have more tests done this week and we should know more about the extent of his injury by then.

Winners of six in a row, the Canadiens are one of the hottest teams in the NHL (Habs and Rangers are both 9-1-0 in their last 10 games) finding themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference, neck in neck with then Penguins, the Islanders and the Lighting and many are attributing their success to goaltender Carey Price. While there is no denying that Price is the team MVP, too many people overlook the work that’s been done by the coaching staff and the defensemen as a group. Many people with the exception of Price himself that is.

Led by young P.K. Subban and veteran Andrei Markov, the Canadiens’ defensive core is highly underrated by its fan base and while they may lack consistency individually from game to game, they are doing a pretty good job as a group of six almost every game. A lot of the credit should go to GM Marc Bergevin with the acquisition of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar who, at 40, is showing that he’s capable of top-4 duties at this level while playing on the right side. No one is giving more credit to Gonchar than his defensive partner, rookie Nathan Beaulieu, who has stolen a spot in the line-up from Weaver and Allen.

Gonchar

Gonchar’s play has allowed head coach Michel Therrien to move Tom Gilbert and Alexei Emelin to the third pairing in the team’s depth chart, roles better suited for them or so it seems. Since then, the pair has been playing some pretty good hockey and both have even contributed a goal in the win against Pittsburgh.

Teams will tell you that defensive success is not a goaltender and/or defensemen’s responsibility alone. Forwards back pressuring and positioning in the defensive zone goes a long way to ensure limiting quality scoring chances against, and make for easier breakouts when the team has the puck in their own zone.

This brings us to perhaps one of the most underrated impact player on the team, the addition of Manny Malhotra. We’ve touched on that in a previous article but the impact this guy has had on the team’s success in the faceoffs’ dot is unbelievable. Not only does Malhotra lead the league in this category, but the impact he’s had on other centers on the team has been noticeable, making the Canadiens one of the best faceoffs’ teams in the entire NHL. Lars Eller has improved by 3.7 percent, David Desharnais by 4.1 percent and Tomas Plekanec by 2.4 percent. Only Alex Galchenyuk is under the 50 percent mark but he has shown an improvement of 29 percent over last year, although the sample is small. Starting with the puck instead of defending is a huge part of a team’s success and Malhotra deserves a lot of credit for that.

While pundits will point out that the Canadiens are 20th in the league in shots allowed per game, this stat, like all others (yes, even fancy stats) doesn’t tell the whole story. Opposing teams, knowing that they are facing one of the best goaltenders in the game, plan to direct as many shots to the net as possible. This theory suggests that an abundance of shots results in a lot of easier saves for the teams’ goalkeepers. Oh far from me to downplay the brilliance of Price, but the defensemen seem to be in a better position to take rebounds this year in comparison to previous years and the breakouts and transition game seems better than before, allowing the team to spend less time in their zone. The Canadiens are third in the NHL in goals against per game.

Where the team needs improvement, in my opinion, is on offense. The Habs are 27th in the NHL in shots per game and 19th in the league in goals for per game and one would think that adding another goal scorer would be fairly high on Bergevin’s shopping list, although the price for such a player is quite high. David Perron would have been a good fit but it is clear that the Canadiens’ GM did not want to part with a first round pick, clearly showing that the man has a plan and he’s sticking with it. Will he be able to pull another miracle like he did with Thomas Vanek last year? Time will tell but this is the kind of trade that he will be looking for.

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I’d like to take the time to express my support and ask that you join me with your thoughts and prayers for the founder and director of Capgeek.com, Matthew Wuest, who is battling some serious personal health issues. On behalf of myself, the All Habs team and Habs’ fans around the world, we wish you well Matthew and it’s in times like this that we not only remember that there is a lot more to life than hockey, but also that hockey is a great family…

Capgeek

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J.D. Lagrange
J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.

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