Grading the Montreal Canadiens' Performance for the 1st Half of the Season

Ryan SzporerContributor IIIMarch 11, 2013

Grading the Montreal Canadiens' Performance for the 1st Half of the Season

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    It would be a slight understatement to say that the Montreal Canadiens are exceeding expectations this season.

    The Habs finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 and yet have completely turned it around, quite literally actually, to the point of leading the East at this season’s halfway mark (by “it” I of course mean reality as we know it).

    While there are a few areas in need of improvement, the midseason report of the Habs as a whole is undeniably good. Here is a breakdown of the team’s success in regard to offense, defense, goaltending, special teams and coaching for your reading pleasure:

Offense

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    From an offensive perspective, there’s not much else fans can ask for from their team.

    Sure, there is the seemingly reasonable request that Colby Armstrong actually put one in, but at this rate, with Ryan White already having one, and Josh Gorges already having two, goalie Carey Price might actually score one first.

    In any case, Montreal is third in the conference with 84 goals. With 26 games played, that averages out to over three goals per game, which is impressive to say the least.

    League-wide, only four other teams have scored more: the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks, the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks, the Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and the 13th-in-the-East Tampa Bay Lightning.

    While one of the above may not seem like the others (only Chicago has lost to the Colorado Avalanche, obviously) the fact of the matter is this Habs team has developed into quite the deep, offensive juggernaut.

     

    Grade: A+

Defense

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    Defensively speaking, the Habs haven’t been bad, but there’s definitely been something left to be desired. In this case, a healthy Erik Karlsson in exchange for Tomas Kaberle, perhaps?

    While Josh Gorges is once again among the league leaders for blocked shots with 60 (Nicklas Grossman leads with 77) and Alexei Emelin is second among defensemen with 88 hits (Luke Schenn has 103), these are not necessarily good metrics for indicating team-wide defensive success (especially not with two Philadelphia Flyers leading both categories).

    In all seriousness, though, as a team, Montreal has admittedly given up an average of 26.6 shots per game and 66 goals, or 2.54 goals per game, which is pretty good. The Habs currently rank fourth and 10th in the league (second and fourth in the conference) in those categories, respectively.

    What’s gravy is that the team’s defensive corps leads the league in goals scored with 17.

    As such, one can only be happy with the team’s defense overall, even if there is room for more physical play and general improvement.

     

    Grade: A

Special Teams

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    Montreal’s special teams have been a mixed bag.

    The team’s power play started the season on fire, but has cooled down and now stands at an above-average even 20 percent, good for 10th in the league.

    Of course, Montreal has drawn 120 power-play opportunities (“earned” instead, if you believe the hypocritical diatribe of one Claude Julien), meaning, even when it is struggling, the power-play unit is still contributing regularly.

    The penalty kill has meanwhile been consistently decent, but at 81.6 percent is only 14th in the league.

    Additionally, despite a few single-penalty games against the Ottawa Senators and the Leafs recently, the Habs have been relatively undisciplined. Heading into last weekend’s games, they've been shorthanded a total of 95 times, which was tied at the time with the Colorado Avalanche for sixth-worst in the league (Brandon Prust leads the league with 81 penalty minutes).

    Obviously, the Avalanche did just break Chicago’s unprecedented 24-game point streak. However, we are talking about a team that is below .500, has trouble putting the puck in net and trouble keeping it out of its own.

    The Avalanche also have unsuccessfully tried out a total of 12 different goalies since Patrick Roy retired in 2003, with the best season statistically speaking belonging to one David “Swiss Cheese” Aebischer.

    Bottom line: Maybe not the best team out there to model your own after.

     

    Grade: B+

Goaltending

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    Montreal’s goaltending has been good, but inconsistent. Especially recently.

    In Price’s last four games he has a admittedly decent 2-1-1 record, but a 4.25 goals-against average and .864 save percentage as well.

    The fact that he has posted two straight wins to now lead the league with 13 is just further proof of his up-and-down season.

    In the first two games of this most recent stretch (losses to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins), he gave up soft goals, was out of position on many occasions and, especially in the overtime loss to the Pens in which his team’s six goals normally would have been more than enough, was anything but clutch.

    All in all, he wasn’t the Price—who now has a 2.37 GAA and a .910 save percentage overall—on whom the Habs have come to rely.

    Backup goalie Peter Budaj has been just the opposite, with a 4-0-0 record, 1.50 GAA and .932 save percentage in his last four games. This after opening the season with a lackluster 0-1-1 record and nine goals against in just two games.

    Needless to say, a goaltending controversy is clearly afoot. Does head coach Michel Therrien give Budaj six of his team’s remaining 22 games or still the originally planned five? You decide.

     

    Grade: A-

Coaching

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    There’s little denying Montreal’s current 17-5-4 record has many people who bemoaned the rehiring of head coach Michel Therrien eating humble pie. Mine tastes like cherry, fyi.

    However, aside from posting an incredible record, there have admittedly been hiccups along the way.

    Coming pretty much as advertised, he’s definitely not perfect:

    1. He’s been overemotional, looking like somebody just ran over his dog each time the camera pans onto him during a game (excluding Ryan White from earlier in the season, just how many dogs can one man have????),
    2. He has shown serious lapses in judgment, publicly calling out his players time and again,
    3. He has been arguably dictatorial in his banning of the post-victory triple low-five, instead favoring the overplayed and incredibly dull sticks-up salute to the fans at center ice, and
    4. The team only just recently curbed its seriously bad habit of giving up third-period leads, which has cost it victories on four separate occasions.

    Still, everything else he has touched this season has turned to gold, including his recent decision to start Budaj over Price in a critical win over the Boston Bruins.

    Overall, with the Habs being as much of a surprise as they have been, a lot of credit must be given to Therrien and the system he has implemented.

    It may be a boring one, at least according to New York Ranger Henrik Lundqvist, but Habs fans would surely disagree—and more importantly prefer their team to play boring hockey and be where it is currently in the East instead of in eighth.

    Put simply, Therrien has the Habs, who finished with just 78 points last year, on pace for 70 in a season a full 34 games shorter.

    Now, don’t everyone go planning a Stanley Cup parade just yet. There’s still a lot of time left for a lot of things to go wrong, but considering this piece constitutes a midseason report card, Therrien merits a great deal of props for what he has accomplished up to this point.

     

    Grade: A