P.K. Subban skates around an Edmonton defender.
After a hot start to the 2013-14 season, the Montreal Canadiens have hit a bump in the road. Injuries have piled up and they are coming off back-to-back losses to lesser opponents in Nashville and Edmonton.
In their most recent loss to the Oilers October 22, they blew a 2-0 lead and ended up allowing four goals for the first time since opening night. All four goals came at even strength. Not good for the plus-minus ratings.
Plus-minus might not be the most telling statistic in hockey, but it still has its worth. It rewards you for being on the ice when your team scores, and penalizes you for allowing a goal against.
Here are the five Montreal Canadiens who will have the best plus-minus stats in 2013-14.
Tomas Plekanec takes a faceoff against Edmonton.
Tomas Plekanec is easily Montreal's best defensive forward. He centers the Canadiens second line and there probably isn't a player on the team that coach Michel Therrien trusts more.
He's also pretty good offensively. Through nine games this season, the veteran of the Czech Republic has a respectable four goals and two assists.
So one would think that a player who is excellent defensively and puts up good offensive numbers would be a team leader in plus-minus, right? Not quite the case with Plekanec.
Being the number one defensive forward in Montreal means extra responsibilities. Coach Therrien has Plekanec lined up against the opposing team's top line on a nightly basis. He's also used for many key defensive faceoffs and in crucial, late-game moments.
Therrien puts Plekanec in tough situations because he trusts him. This is great for the team and he usually helps the Canadiens win games. However, opponents do score from time to time, which of course hurts his plus-minus.
Plekanec's solid all-around game will lead to a respectable, top-5 plus-minus rating by season's end. But because of the tough minutes he plays, he won't be leading the team in 2013-14.
Brandon Prust finished 2013 ranked third on the Canadiens at plus-11. He plays a game that bodes well for the plus-minus rating and should finish this season among the team leaders once again.
Prust is generally known as a hard-working, gritty forward who plays a physical game. He's also an elite defensive forward and is plenty capable of putting the puck in the back of the net.
Through eight games, Prust sits at plus-3. He has two goals and an assist and has been one of Montreal's top penalty-killers.
Unfortunately for Habs fans, the 29-year-old will be sidelined for the a while after falling hard into the boards in a game against the Nashville Predators. NHL.com reports that he'll miss a month of action.
When Prust does return, he'll slide right back into his role of playing sound defensive hockey while providing a bit of an offensive spark as well. Expect him to finish the season near the top of the team in plus-minus.
Lars Eller carries the puck.
The Montreal Canadiens are fortunate to have found a breakout star in Lars Eller. With all the injuries to the team's forwards, it's hard to imagine what their record would be without him.
Eller has become the team's No. 1 center, a position he will likely occupy for the remainder of the season. With that position comes the opportunity to play with the team's top players, which in turn should positively impact his plus-minus by season's end.
The Great Dane is currently lining up with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk to form Montreal's top line. Through nine games Eller sits at plus-4, putting him even with P.K. Subban and Gallagher with the second-best rating on the team.
Being the top center also means getting to take more shifts with the Canadiens' top defenders—Subban and Andrei Markov. The Habs top pairing is possibly the most offensively talented duo in the NHL and will continue to provide pluses to whomever is on the ice with them on a nightly basis.
Eller has always been good in his own zone, and this year has been no different. His time as a third-line center in Montreal taught him defensive responsibility and it shows with how he plays inside his own blue line.
Adding to his plus-minus fortunes is the fact that he does not have to continuously line up against the opposing team's top unit. Coach Therrien prefers to let Tomas Plekanec and his linemates do the bulk of the grunt work against the league's more dangerous forwards.
Eller has been a welcomed surprise for Montreal this season and his strong play should result in a solid plus-minus figure at season's end. Expect him to finish third in that category on the Habs.
Andrei Markov currently leads the Canadiens at plus-9. He's just one off the pace for best plus-minus in the NHL.
What a turnaround it has been.
In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Markov had a wonderful offensive season, posting 30 points in 48 games. Usually those kinds of numbers translate well into the plus-minus rating, especially for a defenseman. But Markov was a special case last season.
The veteran Russian, slowed by his three knee surgeries, was awful defensively and somehow managed to have a team-worst minus-9 by season's end.
To illustrate how bad that number really is, take this as an example: The second worst rating on the team was forward Jeff Halpern at minus-4. The second-worst regular defenseman was Andrei Emelin at plus-2.
The wonky knees and long layoff from surgeries definitely had a lot to do with Markov's defensive problems. Thankfully, he looks much more like his old self this season after having the summer to build strength and speed.
Markov isn't scoring at the same rate as he did last year, with just five points on the season. But he's been on the ice for a lot of goals scored. Playing with a partner who leads defensemen in scoring might have something to do with that.
He's also much-improved on the back end, and he has to be, as he's being relied on much more from a defensive point of view in 2013-14. Coach Therrien has him paired with the ultra-aggressive P.K. Subban, forcing Markov to play a little more conservatively while his partner takes the risks.
Markov has been challenged and he has responded with excellent defensive play so far this season. As long as he can stay on the ice, he's a safe bet to be among the team leaders in plus-minus this year. Expect him to finish second on the team in that category in 2013-14.
P.K. Subban celebrates.
In 2013, P.K. Subban finished second in team plus-minus (plus-12) en route to his first-ever Norris Trophy. He should be able to improve on that number and have the best plus-minus on the team by the end of 2013-14.
Subban currently ranks second at plus-4 after nine games. He was as high as plus-6 on the season until a pair of minus-1 nights against Nashville and Edmonton pushed him back.
To lead a team in plus-minus, a player needs to be on the ice for a lot of goals scored while giving up few against. These are two factors that perfectly suit Subban.
Subban has shown early this season that he is hands down the best offensive player on the Canadiens. It could even be argued he's the best offensive defenseman in the entire NHL. The stats certainly back that up. His 11 points in nine games leads the Habs and all NHL defenders in scoring.
The young defender from Brampton, Ontario, has been paired with veteran Andrei Markov to start the new season. While the two don't exactly form a shut-down pairing, their defensive abilities are still above average.
Acting as Montreal's top pairing and seeing the league's best forwards on a nightly basis, they will allow their fair share of goals against. They are skilled enough, however, to keep that number relatively low so that their pluses outweigh their minuses by a wide margin.
There's no doubt Subban will be in the plus category a lot this season. As long as he can limit his minuses, he should edge Markov for the top plus-minus rating on the Canadiens in 2013-14.