Montreal finds itself 10-9-2 with 22 points at the quarter point. They have 22 points and sit at 7th in the Eastern Conference; a bubble team with 52 goals for and 45 against. That ratio is key as it was a lot larger. Also, Montreal plays a style of hockey that diminishes as we get closer to play off time. Frankly the current squad is not built for a long run to Lord Stanley’s Cup; but more geared to simply making it into the play offs.
While some are giving the team space suggesting they are rebuilding on the fly I’m not so sure I’m willing to give them that based on GM Marc Bergevin’s moves to date. I’m going to give him a (C) for his report card.
Coach Michel Therrien shows how a team winning makes you look smarter than you may be while a team losing doesn’t always do the opposite. Something was really exposed in the play off round last year and the clubs fall from grace before bowing out in the first round to Ottawa. Grade (C-)
Centres: Tomas Plekanec is getting the most ice time of Habs Centres. He’s having an average year on pace for between 50-60 points which while not stellar is quite good considering that he really doesn’t have much to work with line wise and gets so many minutes as a checker. He’s seeing about 2 minutes of PP time per game, but nearly 3 minutes of PK. Grade (B)
Lars Eller: Our Great Dane is having a great recovery year after his scary hit to end is season last year. He’s being used with different lines. He’s on pace to have a similar year point wise as Plekanec, but he adds more grit and is better at face offs. He’s seeing about a minute more ice time on even strength while seeing the same PP time as Plecky; but less on the PK. While taking only 30 or so less face offs than Plekanec he’s winning 53% vs 49%. Grade (B)
David Desharnais: Scott Gomez disease revisited. For some reason Marc Bergevin locked this guy up with a relatively huge contract. Mr. Desharnais has had such a bad year the new Mayor of Montreal took time from wanting to shut down erotic massage parlours to suggest that the diminutive get some time on the farm. Desharnais has spent some time in the stands though as his 1 assist in 19 games is just not acceptable. He is winning 50 % of his face offs; but it does bring back what I wrote about last year; that the Habs should have admitted their oopsie and used their buyout on Desharnais instead of the one year on D man Tomas Kaberle.
Ryan White: zero points in 18 games – 23 pims – 52% on face offs. Grade (C-)
Daniel Briere: I’m still trying to understand how the Habs wouldn’t bite in Vinny Lecavlier, but jumped on Briere? Maybe it’ll turn out that Vinny just didn’t want to be a Hab? Briere is back from concussion. 11 games played – 2g 3a – 49% FO – not sure what the team was expecting and unless Montreal really ups the ante next quarter expecting Mr. Briere to be traded off. Grade (C)
Brendan Gallagher: Leads the team with 8 goals. On pace for 32 goals. Essentially is becoming what Brian Gionta used to be. For a fifth round draft pick is totally paying off. Is only averaging 15 minutes a game. Grade (B+)
Max Pacioretty: I think Max misses Erik Cole. Something changed in his game after Cole was traded. Yes he’s injured a lot, but he isn’t going into the tough ice as much or getting the dirty goals he has since he signed his long term contract. Would project out to only scoring 12 goals on a full season with over 250 shots. His shooting % is the second lowest in his Habs career to date. Montreal needs Max to get Mad and play like the player the gave out a contract to. His hits per game are dropping too along with a (-5) +/-. Grade (C-)
Alex Galchenyuk: Still on the wing although has been given some time at Centre. On pace for 60 points and adds in 19 hits. He’s not getting hard ice time yet though and like Gallagher only getting about 15 minutes per night. Grade (B+)
Michael Bournival: Plugged in after injuries Mr. Bournival is having a career year. Nothing in his AHL or Junior career really suggests the results he’s getting so kudo’s to the young un! 9 points and 20 hits in 18 games with 3rd line ice time and (+4) is an accomplishment. One of the bright spots of this early season for Montreal. Grade: (B+)
Brian Gionta: A sub par year so far (9 points in 20 games) ; but considering that the Captain is coming back from injury an accomplishment. Has not found his stride, but is only 34 and in a contract season so expect Brian to up the ante as the season heats up unless he gets injured. Another player possibly sent out depending on the next quarter of play for Montreal. Grade (C+)
Rene Bourque: For the amount of ice that Rene is getting has not done enough. Is on pace for 20 goals though. Needs to improve his work ethic and is very lucky the club is going through some of the issues it is or he might lose ice time. Grade (C-)
Brandon Prust: Fan fave and spark plug for the team. Team is 6-4 with Prust in the line up. That’s the problem as he’s only played half the season due to injury! The Habs desperately need someone to support Prust as he’s taking heavy weight minutes instead of his own weight class. Grade (C+)
Travis Moen: Seems to be playing out the string and his contract? Is only 31 though. I have a hunch the more this team wins the better Moen would play. And if not in Montreal maybe somewhere else? Grade (D)
George Parros: I like George. I think the days for players like George in the NHL are near an end. I will not grade George as there is no fitting way to grade this warrior.
P.K. Subban: What does a guy have to do to get the respect of his team and coach? P.K. has been playing with Andrei Markov a lot. Not sure why; but hey; I’m not a NHL coach or GM. Is having the greatest full year of his career including some gaudy Jr. numbers.
17 points in 21 games; tied for second best with a +4 and 25 hits. 31 blocked shots. His only possible negative is 17 giveaways compared to 5 take aways. Not dominating; but sucking up 24 minutes per night. Is in contract year and if he and the Habs have to decide if this marriage is to work or not. There is not a team in the league that wouldn’t want PK Subban and I guarantee another squad will try and sign PK if the Habs do not early. The key is how smart PK is and realize the the bigger the contract he extorts out of Montreal the more pressure he will have on him. By asking and signing for a reasonable team friendly number long term he’ll show leadership and commitment to a city whose fans will immortalize him. Grade (A-)
Andrei Markov: I have to give Markov credit. This has been an awesome season for him; but he’s playing too many minutes which is one of the factors in why he usually has not excelled in the play offs. Older smokers with gimpy knees need to pace themselves.
Leads the team at +7. Has blocked nearly 50 shots and is on pace for only 40 points. He’s showing that he’s worthy of another Habs contract; but at what price? Grade (B)
Raphael Diaz: For Diaz to get 20 minutes per night shows how the Habs need to upgrade on defense. Diaz has done his best and isn’t horrible. He isn’t physical. He doesn’t score that much. He’s blocked 52 shots. The Habs have got great value out of Raphael, but would prefer he be a 5 or 6 instead of 3 or 4. Grade (B-)
Josh Gorges: 54 blocked shots and +1. Best buds with Carey Price. Again a lot of minutes without a lot of return. Grade (C+)
Frankie Boullion: 17 minutes a night at 38 has exposed the much liked Boullion. At this stage he’s a bottom pairing guy who’s good in the dressing room and with the kids. Needs less ice time in what may be his final season. -10 says a lot. Grade (C-)
Douglas Murray: I like Douglas Murray. I know he has detractors, but he’s not meant to be a PK Subban. He does a job and fills a role that the team needs. Only 9 games this far because of injury; but he’s put up 25 hits and 26 blocked shots. Big bodies with attitudes are not ever really bad for a team. Grade (B-)
Alexei Emelin: Boom Boom is back and just in time as the team desperately needs him. It should be interesting to see how the pairings evolve. Does it end up with Gorges and Subban followed by Markov and Emelin which lets Diaz slide down with either Murray or Boullion? I’d actually like to see Emelin & Subban match up on occasion as it would clearly be explosive. Grade (NA)
Carey Price: As many know I’m not the biggest fan of Mr. Price who is having a good season so far. Not great, but good. The most dramatic thing a goalie can do is either steal a game or give up easy ones. Mr. Price and Montreal as a team need to focus on the first goal of the game.
The numbers: in the 17 games that Mr. Price has played they have scored the first goal 9 times, but given it up 8. In those 8 they are 0-8 and were shut out only once. In the 9 games they scored first they are 7-2 with Carey getting one shut out.
That’s the biggest tale of the tape for Mr. Price. If the team can change that ratio it’s a whole new game of hockey.
Carey needs to be more of a force and steal more games. He has proven he’s a good if not top caliber NHL goalie. He needs to prove he’s a winner now. A Patrick Roy and not a Curtis Joseph. Grade (B)
Peter Budaj: One of the highest paid back ups in the NHL; but one of the best. Budaj is 3-1 with a gaudy 1.48 GAA and .945 sv %. Grade (A+) And he’s putting up these numbers without being a threat to his starting goalie.
Overall. Montreal has a lot of pressure on it. Will the team be buyers or sellers? Will it even make the play offs? Gionta, Parros, Markov, Boullion, Diaz, Murray are UFAs. Eller, Subban, and White are RFA. Those are some big questions for Marc Bergevin. Also is Michel Therrien his guy for now or the future and if not who’s the target with Quebec’s special linguistic handicap when it comes to hiring coaches & management?
Montreal is a true bubble team. The potential is there for this year to make the play offs and maybe have a run; but not as things stand. If Emelin is back and impacts the D corp they are in better shape although I’d still look for a true 3rd D man.
The forward corp is a mess. Is Lars Eller really your number one guy going into the play offs? How will the Desharnais mess be resolved as it really is impacting the team. Can someone light a fire under Max Pacioretty or is he playing hurt? Can poor Tomas Plekanec ever get a good line to play with?
Montreal is in reasonable cap shape and can make some interesting trades if the GM has the ability. The clouding of Rick Dudley possibly leaving the team to take the Buffalo GM gig surely isn’t good news. Hamilton also doesn’t seem to be the spot to resolve some of the issues for the Habs as none of their players are busting down the barn doors as of yet this season.
Team Grade ( B-) This quarter projection; Bubble team leaning towards becoming sellers.
What do you think Habs fans? You can post your comments below and follow me on Twitter @cwfreenews