Montreal Canadiens Awards for the 1st Half of the 2013-14 Season
Through 40 games, the Canadiens sit third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference with 49 points (23-14-3). They are a good team who should be playoff-bound, but will certainly need to improve if they hope to make it past the first round come April.
As the Canadiens head into the new year, it's time to look back and recognize some of the Habs' top players at midseason.
Here are the Montreal Canadiens awards for the first half of the 2013-14 season.
Top Coach: Stephane Waite
Stephane Waite is the Montreal Canadiens' goaltender coach and deserves to be recognized for the way he has helped Carey Price and Peter Budaj become one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL.
Waite had a stellar reputation before landing in Montreal, as he had developed both Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford into Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders with Chicago.
The Canadiens were able to lure him from the Blackhawks in the offseason and it turned out to be the best move general manager Marc Bergevin made.
Montreal's goalies have led the Habs to their current 23-14-3 record with stingy play between the pipes.
Goaltending was a question mark with the Montreal Canadiens this season, especially considering the way Price collapsed down the stretch in 2013. Waite has turned that uncertainty into the team's strength.
Montreal scores very few goals and relies on its goalies to give the team a chance to win every night. They have done that so far in 2013-14 and Waite deserves to be recognized for this. He is Montreal's top coach at the midway mark of the season.
Most Improved Player: Alex Galchenyuk
Considering Montreal's long history of allowing its prospects to develop slowly, it was generally thought that Alex Galchenyuk would be making his NHL debut this season after a development year last season in junior.
Instead, the third overall pick from the 2012 draft forced the hands of Canadiens management with an impressive training camp last January and played his way onto the team.
He played very much like a 19-year-old last season, with some brilliant moments and some low ones. He ended the season with nine goals and 18 assists in 48 games, finishing eighth in team scoring.
This year, Galchenyuk has been much better.
Through 40 games, the sophomore sits second in scoring among forwards with 10 goals and 12 assists. He is tied for third in power-play scoring with seven points. He is sixth in shots on net and has the second-highest shooting percentage on the team.
All from a kid who is still eligible to be playing for Team USA at the current World Junior Hockey Championship.
Galchenyuk's game is constantly developing, as he is proving to be the gem of the 2012 draft class. The only thing standing in his way right now seems to be his own coach.
Michel Therrien has always held young players back a bit—see: P.K. Subban—and seems to be doing it again with Galchenyuk.
His ice time fluctuates on a game-to-game basis, making it hard for him to get into any kind of rhythm. He has played as little as 8:13 and as much as 19:03 in December alone.
Recently, he has even seen his power-play time take a major hit. Over the past three games, he has averaged just 42 seconds of ice time with the man advantage. He didn't even touch the ice on the power play in Montreal's most recent game against Florida.
There is no logical explanation as to why Therrien is keeping his most talented forward on the bench while he watches his offensively challenged team try and create goals. The Canadiens have scored just 14 goals in their last nine games. They need offense and they need it now.
It's time for Therrien to let go of the reins a bit with Galchenyuk. He's already the team's most improved player this season and will be even better by season's end if he's given the chance.
Top Defenseman: P.K. Subban
Last season, P.K. Subban was not only Montreal's top defender, but the best in the entire NHL as he took home the Norris Trophy.
This year, he has been even better and deserves to be named Montreal's top defenseman at the midway point of the season.
Offensively, Subban continues to be one of the league's most dangerous forces from the back end. He leads the Habs in scoring with five goals and 22 assists.
He is the catalyst of the power play and 14 of his points (2G, 12A) have come with the man advantage. He is a big reason for Montreal's power-play success. The Habs have the ninth-best unit in the league (20.9 percent) as we near the halfway mark of the NHL schedule.
But P.K.'s play in his own end of the rink is the area of his game that has shown the biggest improvement.
After a somewhat shaky start to the season which saw Therrien restrict his ice time on occasion, Subban has recently stepped up his defensive game and become a more complete 200-foot player. He has gained the full trust of his coach and plays heavy minutes in all situations.
Subban has climbed the Canadiens' plus/minus rankings and now sits tied for first with Andrei Markov at plus-nine.
Even more importantly, Behind the Net indicates that he leads Montreal defensemen in on-ice Corsi (shot attempt differential per 60 minutes) at 3.41. Over a full 60 minutes with Subban on the ice, the Canadiens attempt 3.41 more shots than the opposition.
Subban is having another outstanding season and deserves the honor of being Montreal's top defender through 40 games.
Now let's hope Steve Yzerman sees the same thing and names him to Team Canada for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Top Forward: Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec has quietly been Montreal's top all-around forward for years. This season has been no different.
The multi-talented center from the Czech Republic does everything Michel Therrien asks of him night in and night out and never takes a game off.
He acts as the second-line center and lines up against the opponent's most dangerous line each game. Despite this, he's a team-high plus-eight among forwards.
He is first over the bench on the penalty kill and is Montreal's best forward in this department. He is also asked to take pretty much every crucial late-game faceoff.
Oh, and he scores.
Plekanec is Montreal's top point-getter on offense with 13 goals and 11 assists for 24 points. He trails only P.K. Subban in Canadiens scoring.
All things considered, it's pretty easy to see why Tomas Plekanec is Montreal's top forward at the midpoint of the season. He's having another solid year and will be key to the Habs' success in the second half.
Most Valuable Player: Carey Price
The Montreal Canadiens are a good hockey team. Not great. Just good.
Under the right circumstances, good teams can succeed in the NHL. Usually, a combination of great goaltending and timely goal scoring is needed. Luckily for the Canadiens, they have the goaltending part of the equation figured out.
Carey Price is having the career year that Habs fans have been waiting for since he showed glimpses of greatness back in 2010-11.
Through 31 starts this season, the 26-year-old has a magnificent 2.06 goals-against average and an even better .932 save percentage. He gives the Canadiens a legitimate chance to win each and every night, no matter who the opponent is.
Price came to the NHL with a reputation of being able to carry a team on his shoulders.
In 2007, he led the Canadian World Junior team to gold by going 6-0 with two shutouts. His goals-against average for the tournament was a stingy 1.14 and his save percentage an incredible .961.
Later that same year, he was summoned to the Hamilton Bulldogs to help them with their playoff run. He would lead the Bulldogs to the AHL championship as a teenager, taking home playoff MVP honors.
Price is proving so far this season that he is indeed able to do the same at the NHL level. The Canadiens certainly would not be 23-14-3 without him.
The Montreal Canadiens' 2013-14 season will likely go as far as Price will take them. He is their midseason MVP and will likely receive the same honor in June.