Montreal Canadiens Early-Season Report Card
The Canadiens have played seven regular-season games already. Admittedly, those are probably the least important games they are likely to play all year long. Still, Montreal was on the bubble last year, so every win counts.
The lineup is slowly getting set, as management is busy choosing who they want playing what role going forward.
Here's a quick set of grades for the team so far this year.
In the wake of an unpopular trade, Carey Price has had the entire goaltending duties of the Montreal Canadiens thrust upon him, in the ultimate sink-or-swim situation. So far the youngster is treading water.
He has played every minute of all seven games so far this year. He's sixth in the league in minutes played. Among the goalies that have at least 300 minutes between the pipes this year, his good .916 save percentage has him 12th.
He managed his first shutout last night against a Spezza-less Senators team. Price has looked calm in net so far and almost unbeatable down low.
He is still a disaster when he tries to move the puck, but he has picked his spots to do this a little better this year.
Price still is giving up that high-glove goal when he goes down to his knees. That's the kind of goal that will have the fans on him again.
So far, however, the fans have been supportive, and Price has been good. Facing the 11th-most shots against in the league so far, he's got a 2.27 GAA, .916 save percentage and one shutout. This looks better when Jaroslav Halak is halfway across the continent with his 1.81 GAA, .929 save percentage and one shutout.
Price has been good in Montreal so far. It would be nice to get backup Alex Auld into some games, just so Price knows he won't be replaced any time soon.
Now if he can just do something about those high-glove shots....
Montreal is running a defense full of old warhorses in the last year of their contracts.
Jaroslav Spacek has been a one man turnover machine so far this year. He seemed to tighten up last night vs. Ottawa, but generally he's been a disaster.
Hal Gill is still the same plodder that leaves forwards running unchecked through the Hab's defensive zone. He's still blocking shots and taking names, but he's too slow to get the minutes he does. His penalty kill has been great.
Josh Gorges has looked good so far this year, but he's leading the team in ice time. All these defenseman would look better in a lineup that had a real No. 1 and No. 2 defenseman in it.
PK Subban has, like Price, had a lot put on him early. Price is a crusty old veteran at 23 while Subban is just 21 years old and has been handed the keys to the power play. There is no one else in the lineup who can do it better, but that may be damning the young man with faint praise. He's looked great at the blueline and on the point.
Hamrlik's minutes have been cut back, and he seems more comfortable with less.
Alexandre Picard is being used as the sixth defenseman, as Martin and the team seem to have given up on the slightly older O'Byrne.
This group, combined with a set of forwards that seems dedicated to backchecking, has the shot count down from last year's horrible 32.1 shots-against per game to the current, eighth-best in the league 27.3 shots per game. It's hard to believe this ragtag group will be able to maintain this. They have certainly helped out Price with this start.
Hopefully Markov returns in time to help maintain this level of coverage and to add a little offense on the back end.
The offense has managed to score one more goal than they have given up this year. Giving up 17 goals in seven games puts them ahead of only league-worst New Jersey, Ottawa, Anaheim and Nashville offensively. There are only four players who take shots on this team: Cammalleri, Gionta, Subban and Kostitsyn.
Kostitsyn seems to have his contract-year mojo working. He'll probably score near 30 this year, and then hopefully sign a contract elsewhere.
Gionta is leading the team in shots and dash, but aside from a pretty breakaway game-winner vs. Ottawa, he hasn't scored. Subban is the bomb from the point on the powerplay, but he has no goals to show for it.
Gomez still has the weakest shot in hockey and cannot be expected to jump-start the offense by shooting. It might be nice to pair him with Pouliot or Eller and see if either of them have the chance to be finishers.
Cammalleri's goals will come. Plekanec has had a great start to his year and has been been the best looking Hab so far. He's still leading the team in taking faceoffs, and he's still less than 50 percent in the faceoff circle. The veteran Gomez has been a miserable 47 percent this year. Jeff Halpern has been brought in as the new defensive center, and he's been on fire, winning 60.3 percent of his faceoffs so far.
Boyd has looked quick in the checking role and hopefully will supplant the superfluous Mathieu Darche before the year is done.
The Canadiens must score more to be successful against better teams. The only new place for offense to come from this year has to be from Eller, Subban and perhaps Pouliot.
Power Play: F
Montreal ran the second-most efficient power play in the league last year. This helped make up for being the worst five-on-five offensive team in the league.
This season despite featuring the youthful Subban and his energetic play on the point the Canadiens so far have the least successful power play in the league at 4.2 percent. Their power-play goal has come from Josh Gorges.
They have managed to maintain control and puck movement during most of their power plays to date, but there have been no goals.
Bergeron was brought in last year and resurrected a faltering power play. The hope is that Markov will manage to do the same when he returns from injury. The fear has to be he won't be enough.
Josh Gorges can't do it alone.
Penalty Kill: A+
The Canadiens reloaded with penalty killers this year. Travis Moen has been joined by the speedy Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern. Gorges and Gill have anchored the penalty kill, and almost everybody has contributed to give the Canadiens the most successful penalty kill in the league at 92.6 percent.
Plekanec is making a contribution on both specialty teams.
It's a nice counterbalance to that league-worst power play.
It's been intriguing this year to watch Martin use his lineup. I'm not a fan of letting the players run wild on your team. Consistency in management is essential to avoiding problems with the players running the asylum.
That said, Martin already seems to have made some questionable player-personnel moves.
This story probably says it best: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/499540-canadiens-head-coach-jacques-martin-playing-favorites
Martin doesn't only have to win this year. He needs to develop a team that can win year after year, and that will involve incorporating young players, especially defensemen, into the mix as this crop of Canadiens prepare to retire.
The Fans: B+
The Canadiens' fanbase seems to have taken the road less traveled this regular season—the one to rationality. They've been supportive of the team and fragile goaltender Carey Price now that the season has begun.
They have tried to amuse themselves by engaging in that more traditional pastime of booing players who have left the Canadiens for more money. Both Ottawa games featured them booing ex-pat Alexei Kovalev every time he touched the puck. Unfortunately, this only kept them occupied for about 30 seconds.
Mostly I've just heard happy fans singing. There has been much less of the taunting of losing teams late in games. That has always been—let's face it—tacky, and a little bit presumptuous. Hubris among supporters of a mediocre team never ends well.
Good for the fans. Hopefully Carey Price doesn't give up too many more of these high-glove goals while crouching on his knees for point shots. That will set the fans off against him.
The Team: B
The team has had a good start at 4-2-1. Nine points every seven games will probably get them in the playoffs.
Last season required a lot of overtime shootout success, which hasn't been prevalent yet, as they lost their only shootout so far.
Hopefully the team can maintain their effective defense and goaltending and add some scoring as the season evolves. Wins in the bank are never a bad thing.