Grades for Montreal Canadiens' Top Stars in 1st Round of NHL Playoffs
The Montreal Canadiens surprised the hockey world by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the NHL playoffs. They now sit back and enjoy a couple of days off while awaiting the winner of the Boston vs. Detroit series.
The Canadiens gave a total team effort in Round 1. They played with incredible balance, as all four lines and all three defensive pairings contributed. In fact, the third line stole the limelight, as Rene Bourque, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta teamed up to form Montreal's best line.
The depth players were great, but Montreal's top stars came to play as well. They all had their say in the sweep. Yet do they all deserve top marks?
Here are grades for the Montreal Canadiens' top stars in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Max Pacioretty: A
From a goal-scoring point of view, it must have been very frustrating for Max Pacioretty in the first-round series against Tampa Bay.
The 39-goal scorer in the regular season was held goalless until the 19:17 mark of the third period of Game 4. He then, of course, scored the series-clinching goal to send Montreal through to the second round.
His first-round stats looked like this: one goal, one assist, an even plus-minus rating and 14 shots in 19 minutes, 29 seconds of average ice time over four games.
Not bad, but more scoring is expected from the team's top goal getter.
But he played much better than his stats show. He played fast and physical while getting himself numerous scoring chances throughout the series.
He took turns with Steven Stamkos as being the most dangerous player on the ice, and that's a major compliment.
Normally you worry when your leading goal scorer pots just one in a first-round series, but there is no reason to panic with how Pacioretty played. Goals will come in the second round.
P.K. Subban: A+
Great players know they have to step up come the playoffs, and P.K. Subban did just that in Round 1.
With his steady partner Josh Gorges back at his side, Subban played his best hockey in months, offensively and defensively.
In four games, he notched four assists (including two power-play points) and was a plus-two while averaging more than 26 minutes of ice per night.
He was electrifying on offense, dazzling with his end-to-end rushes and his spin-o-ramas. His puck possession was dominant, and his pass choices were excellent.
Making it even more impressive is that he did this while playing the majority of his shifts against Tampa Bay's top line. It seemed Michel Therrien thought Subban and Gorges' mobility made them a better fit to defend Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.
Subban was magnificent in Round 1 and earns top grades for his performance. He'll need another similar effort to help Montreal win Round 2.
Thomas Vanek: B
Let's start by making this clear: Thomas Vanek did not play poorly in Round 1. But when compared to the superb play of the stars around him, he earns the lowest grade of the five.
Statistically, he had a goal and two assists, was a plus-one and had 11 shots on goal while averaging 17:52 of ice.
By the numbers, he played better than Max Pacioretty. But in reality, that was not the case.
Vanek played a solid series but did not look spectacular by any means. He played well but not great. He didn't have that spark that Pacioretty, or even Rene Bourque, had all series.
He did make some nice plays, especially in passing to his linemates. Yet at times he almost seemed to be forcing the passes a bit too much, giving up shot opportunities in the process. Perhaps being a bit more selfish next round could help the newest Canadien.
Vanek earns an average grade for his performance in Round 1. He played well, but he can play better. The Habs need a bit more scoring out of their top line next series, and Vanek's production will be an important part of that.
Andrei Markov: A+
Generally, Andrei Markov is considered an offensive defenseman. So when you look at the Round 1 stats and see that he didn't record a point, you could assume that he had a poor series.
But with that assumption, you'd be wrong. Markov was fantastic in Round 1.
He was calm, collected and efficient. He teamed up with Alexei Emelin to form shutdown pairing No. 2 and smothered the Tampa Bay forwards.
In fact, you could almost say he looked a little bit like Nicklas Lidstrom in his final years, and that's about the highest compliment you can give a defenseman.
Markov averaged 27:24 of ice time to lead all skaters in the series. He led the Canadiens in power-play time (4:05) and was fourth in short-handed situations (1:25).
That's a lot of ice time for a 35-year-old with a twice-repaired knee who is nearing 100 games played this season.
Markov is an important part of the Canadiens team. He's a leader on the ice and off, as evidenced by the way he helped calm a fired-up P.K. Subban in Game 1. He was excellent in Round 1 and will be in Round 2 as well.
Carey Price: A-
Carey Price had an excellent series. He was not the reason the Montreal Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he did what he needed to do.
In Round 1, he went 4-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage. His GAA was almost identical to his regular-season number of 2.32, but his save percentage was well down from his .927 mark.
The 26-year-old has never fared well in the playoffs, and his start this year was shaky as well. He rebounded, however, and was sharp from the third period of Game 1 on, save for a couple of goals he'd probably like to have back.
His best moments of the series came in the second half of Game 3 as the Lightning furiously tried to come back. Price made some key saves to preserve the Canadiens' lead and help open a three-game lead.
The Canadiens played an excellent team game against the Lightning and did not need Price to steal a victory in Round 1. He did his job when called upon, however, and played well enough to win four games.
As the playoffs move on and the opponents get tougher, the Canadiens will need his heroics to help bail them out. Price can be better than he was in Round 1 and will likely need to be if the Canadiens hope to win the Atlantic Division title.