Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Underrated Value Of Manny Malhotra

As soon as teams were allowed to sign players on July 1st, 2014, the Montreal Canadiens called veteran Manny Malhotra to offer him a one-year deal worth $850,000. Many Habs fans had no clue who Malhotra was and most only remembered him from his days as a Vancouver Canuck.

Three months later, the underrated impact of this signing is already felt after six games, the Habs being 5-1 and standing atop of the Eastern Conference standings.

Not known for his offensive abilities, the 34-year-old pivot has no point and no penalty minute so far this season, centering the team's fourth line. But we can't assess Malhotra's impact by looking at his offensive numbers, because his value truly likes at the face-off circle and in the dressing room.

[Related: from The Hockey Writers -> Brendan Gallagher: The Heart Of A Lion] 

Malhotra currently leads the ENTIRE NHL with a face-off percentage of 66,3% among qualified players, winning at least 60% of his face-off in all but one game this year. His face-off skills also appear to help David Desharnais and Lars Eller, who have improved considerably at the dot. Desharnais' efficiency is up 5.6% while Eller's efficiency is up 1.9%. Only Tomas Plekanec continues to struggle at 46.1%.

Malhotra really improved at the dot under former Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock for whom he played between 2006 and 2009. That's where he started to take more draws and he quickly got better, consistently posting face-off percentages about 60%. It also helps a lot to have taken about 11,183 draws against a plethora of centermen during his 16-year career in both the Eastern and Western conference.
As a team, the Canadiens are currently sitting at 54.5% in their match-ups. Only two teams are better, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets, ironically two of Malhotra's former teams.

Malhotra's arrival has allowed head coach Michel Therrien to start Plekanec's line much more often in the offensive season as he is not the go-to-guy any more when it comes to defensive zone face-offs. Plekanec's offensize zone starts are up 7.6% from 38% last season to 45.6% this season, allowing him to start less often in his own end and get more playing time alongside his linemates, Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, in the offensive zone.

Behind the Lens: Manny Malhotra

The native of Mississauga, Ontario, is also an adept penalty killer spending a quarter of his playing time (12 minutes on average per game) down a man, and we all know how undisciplined the
Canadiens have been so far.
"That's why we wanted to acquire him this summer, said head coach Michel Therrien. We understand the importance of face-offs, but his contribution doesn't stop there. We can use him down a man or to protect a lead late in the game. He has been a very good acquisition for our team."

Playing on 2:55 minutes on the penalty kill this season, Malhotra allows Tomas Plekanec to get more rest and less defensive responsibilities. So far this year, Plekanec is spending 51 less seconds per game on the PK (2:57/game in 2013-14 and 2:06/game in 2014-15) and 49 seconds less overall on the ice per game down from 19:46 to 18:57.

This slight decrease might prove beneficial for the team over the long term as it would mean that Plekanec would play about a game less of taxing minutes over an 82-game calendar. The organization hopes that a rested and more productive Plekanec will help the team go even deeper in the playoffs than last season when the team lost in the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers.

So far so good as Plekanec is the team's leading scorer with seven points in six games to go along with a +3 plus/minus differential.

Do you agree that Malhotra's signing has been the best off-season move by GM Marc Bergevin?


Game 7 - Canadiens vs Red Wings

#MTLHockey Preview

montreal canadiens vs detroit red wings nhl

Match Up

The Canadiens (5-1-0) host the Red Wings (3-1-1) at the Bell Centre Tuesday night for an Original Six match up. The game is set to start at 7:30 and is being shown on RDS, City - Montreal, and Fox Sports - Detroit.

This is the first of four meetings between the Habs and Wings this season. Last year the Canadiens went 2-1-1, winning the last two games. Jarred Tinordi played over 15 minutes in the Canadiens 5-3 win in their final game last year, picking up two assists in the process.

What to Watch

When he gets going the way he did Saturday night against the Avalanche, PK Subban can be hard to miss. PK lit the lamp twice Saturday bringing him up to three goals and four points on the season. He also picked up his seventh minor penalty of the season, putting him in a familiar position ahead of the league in that department, tied with Boston's Brad Marchand.

Red Wings fans needed to sit through 64 minutes and 50 seconds of goalless hockey Saturday night when the Wings hosted the Maple Leafs, but were treated to a Henrik Zetterberg one-timed game-winner off a beautiful feed from Niklas Kronwall for their troubles. It was Zetterberg's first goal of the season but he now has a team-best six points. Gustav Nyquist is also off to an impressive start to his season. After posting 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games last season, he already has four goals and five points in five games this year.

What's at Stake

The Canadiens are at the top of the standings and a win against the Red Wings will help them keep it that way. Detroit is off to a strong 3-1-1 start to the season so the Habs will also be doing themselves a favor by beating their division rivals.

Who's Out

The Canadiens are healthy heading in to Tuesday's game. Jarred Tinordi has played the last four games, the last two of which have come at the expense of Nathan Beaulieu. Dale Weise has also been a healthy scratch the last two games.

Johan Franzen (leg), Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) and Jimmy Howard (groin) all missed Saturday's game against the Leafs, Datsyuk hasn't played yet this season, but all three could be in action on Tuesday. Howard is expected to start in Montreal, the two skaters are a bit more questionable to see action.

What Else

While the Canadiens have been slow out of the gates in their first six games, they've been pretty solid in the final two periods with seven second period and eight third period goals. And although they've allowed five and six goals against in the final two frames, if you discount Montreal's 7-1 loss to the Lightning, they've outscored their opponents 7-3 in the second and 8-3 in the third period.

The Question Mark

How would you like to see Michel Therrien use Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu this season?

Tonight's Show

Join host Steven Hindle along with Kosta Papoulias and Rob Elbaz for the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show as we go live at 6:30 Tuesday to preview the Canadiens and Red Wings. Monica McAlister joins us in the second segment to fill us in on the Wings perspective.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Should Almost-Bourque Be Almost-Benched?

Greetings Habs Addicts,

After last night, the Montreal Canadiens are sitting pretty with a 5-1 record. Of course the loss was a 7-1 dismantling by the Tampa Bay Lightning, surely hell bent on avenging the playoff sweep of last year. The Habs spoiled the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener with a 4-3 win on opening night and beat Boston 6-4 on Thursday in a sloppy, but very entertaining home opener in Montreal. Overall, it has been a solid start to the season for the Habs.

Thus far, Carey Price has been far from stellar. His 4-1 record is deceiving with a 3.38 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage thus far. Most of the goals have not been weak and it's safe to say that the pre-season Vezina darkhorse will turn things around soon enough.
Photo Credit: LaPresse.com

While Thomas Plekanec (four goals, seven points), Alex Galchenyuk (two goals, six points), Brendan Gallagher (three goals, five points) and P.A. Parenteau (two goals, five points) have started the year off well, two players who struggled mightily are struggling again. Lars Eller and Rene Bourque have combined for two assists (one each) and are each minus players (-6 for Eller; -7 rating for Bourque) through the first six games of the season. They are playing 14:33 and 12:54 per game respectively and have totalled 20 shots on goal combined (12 and 8 respectively).

Both players were catalysts in the playoff run last season after miserable regular season showings. Lars Eller signed a lucrative extension (4-years/$14-million; $3.5 AAV) this summer with expectations that he would produce. Rene Bourque is under contract for another year after this season at a cap hit of $3.33 million. CapGeek.com has his actual salary for this season and next at $2.5-million.

Lars Eller is also a younger player that still has a tremendous amount of upside. He is also a strong defensive player, so his offensive shortcomings can be hidden so far. He sparked P.K. Subban for a gorgeous breakaway goal coming out of the penalty box Saturday night against Colorado while killing a penalty. Bourque is 32 years old and is not going to return to his Calgary glory days unless he receives top-line minutes. That will never happen.

So what is Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin going to do with the player affectionately known in the Twitter-verse as #AlmostBourque for his ability to "almost" score goals?
Is there a cap-floor team that would be willing to pick up some of that salary in a trade to dump the underwhelming native of Alberta?
Did Marc Bergevin drop the ball by not finding a deal - any deal at all - this summer with Bourque coming off a clutch playoff performance?
After all, professional sports is all about "What have you done for me lately?"

There are a lot of questions being asked and no real answers. It is only six games into the season. This really is not a time to panic. But we have seen plenty of nothing from Bourque since he was acquired from Calgary in the Mike Cammalleri trade back in 2011-12. Since joining the Habs, Bourque has managed only 21 goals and 38 points in 134 regular season games. Cammalleri surpassed that (24 goals) in his first 72 games with Calgary (rest of the 2011-12 season and all of the strike-shortened 2012-13 season). Cammalleri would also have been off the books at this point in time as well (he signed a free-agent deal with the New Jersey Devils this past off-season). Unless Zac Fucale - the draft pick acquired along with Bourque - develops into a stud netminder/great trade bait, it's safe to say the in-game trade made out of anger and panic was one of the worst made by the Habs in a while. It was also not Marc Bergevin's doing, no fault is being dished out.

But rehashing the past aside, should Rene Bourque be spending time in the press box again this year? He was benched frequently towards the end of last season. When he returned to the line-up, he would produce for a small stretch before disappearing again. Is it time for him to return to the spectator role for a few games? Should Michel Therrien separate Eller and Bourque in order to spark each player? Do you mess with the chemistry of the top two lines in order to do so? Is it bad luck and not a lack of hustle that has led to the disappointing numbers so far?

There are many questions to be answered, but it is safe to say that most Habs fans do not expect anything this year from Rene Bourque. He has given us no reason to expect anything other than an ugly cap hit that keeps the Canadiens from adding pieces down the stretch. Most fans are certainly ready to see #AlmostBourque be #AlmostDone in Montreal.

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Nick Malofy is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Game 6 - Canadiens vs Avalanche

#MTLHockey Preview

HabsAvs

Match Up

The Canadiens (4-1-0) welcome Patrick Roy and the Avalanche (1-3-1) to town Saturday night. The second home game of the season is set to start at 7:00 and will be broadcast on TVA-Sports, City and Altitude TV.

This is the first of two games between the Habs and Avs this season. Last year each team won the match they hosted handily in the two-game season series. Thomas Vanek scored a hat trick in Montreal's 6-3 victory when the teams last met, and Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais each collected a pair of assists.

What to Watch

After four games without a power play goal, the Habs went 2-for-3 with the man advantage against the Bruins Thursday, although the second was scored into an empty net. Jiri Sekac lit the lamp in the home opener for his first career NHL goal. His parents and girlfriend were in the stands to cheer him on.
Jiri Sekac Sr. reacts to his sons first NHL goal

The Avalanche come to town with Daniel Briere, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Jarome Iginla, Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Duchene, and one of the coldest offenses in the league. Colorado has only managed to put up seven goals in five games and have already given up 17 goals against.

What's at Stake

The Canadiens are off to a hot start and their 4-1-0 record has them on top of their division and in a tie with the New York ...wait for it... Islanders for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Avalanche come to town light on goaltending and the Habs will want to take advantage of that.

Who's Out

Alexei Emelin returned to the line-up Thursday from the upper body injury that forced him to miss two games. Nathan Beaulieu and Dale Weise were the healthy scratches when the Habs played their home opener, it will be interesting to see whether they draw back in for Saturday's game.

Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (groin) is already on injured reserve and now back-up Reto Berra (neck) is questionable for Saturday's game after leaving early in Colorado's 5-3 to the Senators on Thursday. This means that Calvin Pickard could get his first NHL start Saturday night. Jesse Winchester (concussion) is also missing for the Avs.

What Else

The first period continues to hurt the Canadiens, the team has been out-shot in the first period of each of their first five games. Thursday's home opener was the first game this season the Habs didn't head to the locker room trailing after 20 minutes.

The Question Mark

He's got a year of NHL coaching experience under his belt and a Jack Adams Award to show for it, but would you want Patrick Roy to coach the Canadiens?

Tonight's Show

Join host Steven Hindle along with Kosta Papoulias and Rob Elbaz for the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show as we go live at 6:00 Saturday night to preview the Canadiens and Avalanche.

Why Travis Moen needs to go

Thursday was a great night to be a Habs fan. Not only have they won against the hated Boston Bruins, we managed to watch a pretty awesome opening game. A great video montage showing all Montreal players and where they came from, as well as presenting them one by one with the now traditional flame holding ceremony. Without any surprise, the crowd has been the loudest for Price, Subban, Galchenyuk, Tokarski, Pacioretty and Desharnais. However, not every player in the team managed to get cheered as loud as their other teammates. The guy who got the worst welcome is without a doubt Travis Moen. In fact, I absolutely understand the fans who did not cheer for him. Here's why:

Travis Moen joined the Montreal Canadiens back in 2009 after winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks. At that time, Moen was a pretty solid third line player; he could get some points in as well as being an enforcer. He even scored the series' winning goal in the 2007 Stanley Cup final. He managed to keep a record of four goals and five assists for nine points in 16 games during these playoffs. He also had a pretty good year in 2006-2007 with 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points in 82 games, spending 101 minutes in the penalty box. That definitely was his best season overall. Back in the days, he was a little bit like what Brandon Prust is nowadays. Between 2008 and 2011, he spent most of his time being an enforcer, with a record of 24 goals and 35 assists for 59 points in 319 games, as well as getting 325 penalty minutes. In 2012, that's when things started going downhill for him; 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points and 124 penalty minutes in 160 games. He basically went from a ratio of 0.18 points/game and 1.02 PIM/game to 0.21 points/game and 0.78 PIM/game. Now, one could say he actually improved in points per game, but Moen hasn't been signed to score goals. The alarming statistics is the straight downward progression of his penalty minutes per game. What it basically means is that whenever the Canadiens signed him, they were expecting a guy who could deliver solid bodychecks as well as dropping the mitts to defend his teammates, and he has been a huge letdown in the last three seasons. Not only is he refusing to scrap, he even starts throwing sucker punches on the back of an opponent's head while keeping his gloves on as we could see earlier this year.


Since that fight against Kevin Miller during which he sustained a concussion and miss some action, Moen has not been the same player.

At the moment, Moen is pretty much taking the spot of a young player who could do better by either bringing speed and points like Michael Bournival, or hitting hard and fighting like Dale Weise. Worst, Moen still has a cap hit of $1.825M for the next two seasons, while Bournival has a salary of only $660,000 and Weise has a cap hit of $1.025M.

The rumors are that Habs GM Marc Bergvin is currently shopping Moen, but that nobody is interested in the grizzled veteran. It is more likely that a contending team comes knocking at the trade deadline to add size and experience to their line-up in prevision of the long playoffs. Still, the best the Canadiens could probably receive in return is a late-round pick.

What would you do with Travis Moen?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Interview With Habs Defenseman Alexei Emelin

In this interview, originally appearing on the popular Russian portal Sport-Express right before his return on ice, Alexei Emelin talked about playing with P.K. Subban, life in Montreal, and recovering after the Olympic Games debacle.

- Alexei, did you recover from all the old injuries?

- All is good now. The most important thing is that the season started in a good way.

- How did you like the move to the left side? You shoot left, maybe the left side is more natural for you.

- I don’t have any preference, I feel good on either side. I had to part ways with Andrei Markov, with whom I always played on the same pair, but it hasn’t been terrible. Changes happen every time and maybe this one will even go to my advantage.

- More so if we consider that you were moved to the first pair with P.K. Subban.

- You need to earn the coaches’ trust. We don’t have such a thing like a first pair. On a given game, the first pair is Subban and I, then the day after Andrei [Markov] and Gilbert. I don’t read the press and I don’t know what kind of meaning they all give to this.

- Is playing with Subban harder than playing with Markov?

- There are no cardinal differences. The coaches split us for a very simple reason: they wanted to have a right-handed and a left-handed defenseman in each defensive pair.

- Is your reputation of simply a hard-hitting defenseman just a stereotype?

- I think yes. Even more so if we consider that our coaches don’t limit defensemen and are happy if we join the rush.

- In the KHL you did it quite often…

- Yes, but here I’m just starting. The fact is that here [in the NHL] you won’t survive without battling for the puck. The game is much harder due to the small ice surface.

- How do you feel in Montreal?

- All is good, I’m at ease. Of course, in Canada people feel hockey in a different way [than in Russia].

- What do you exactly mean?

- It’s simply much more popular. Even if Kazan is one of the biggest hockey centers in Russia, in Canada there are much more fans. Especially in Montreal. At the start it was hard to get used to the fact that in the locker room we had more journalists, than players. I was also shocked by the fans. Then I got used to it. It was much easier for my family too, once they grasped the language a little bit more.

- Do you talk in French?

- No, for now in English only. But I think that soon my daughter will speak both languages. She attends an English language school, but French language is in the mandatory program.

- Is it easier to play in a non-Olympic season?

- Yes, of course. Last year I felt so much pressure. I was always thinking if I would get a sport on the Olympic roster, also because it was our home Olympics.

- Is that bitter after-taste still there?

- Yes. And it will stay there for my whole life. You don’t have many of those chances in your life. I can only blame myself and I think that everyone should search the reasons of that debacle in himself.

- How did you spend the summer?

- Nothing special, at home. I went to the seaside, I just rested. And I watched the FIFA World Cup.

- And how do you feel yourself?


- I still have to fully recover. This season has been very upsetting.

***************************

Translation by HabsAddict's Russian Correspondent Alessandro Seren Rosso @AlexSerenRosso.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Game 5 - Canadiens vs Bruins

#MTLHockey Preview

Habs Vs Bruins

Match Up

After a week on the road, the Canadiens (3-1-0) will finally play their home opener Thursday night when they host the Bruins (2-3-0). The game is set to start at 7:30 and the Habs' home opener will be shown on RDS, Sportsnet 360, NESN and NHLNetwork-US.

This is the first of four matches between the Canadiens and Bruins. They Habs won three of four meetings during the regular season last year and beat the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs, winning Game 7 in Boston. At the end of the series, Milan Lucic had a few choice words for Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin.
Where we left off
 

What to Watch

The Canadiens have yet to score their first power play goal of the season and not that's it been for a lack of opportunity. The team has managed just 13 power play shots while going 0-for-14 with the man advantage.

Carey Price has had a slow start to the year despite a 2-1-0 record. He's given up three goals or more in each of his first three starts, including four in two periods on Monday against the Lightning.

While the Canadiens have struggled to score on the power play, the Bruins have struggled scoring altogether with just six goals in five games. Reilly Smith has two goals playing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, he's the team's only multiple goal scorer. The Bruins responded to their lethargic start by signing Simon Gagne to a one-year deal worth $600,000.

What's at Stake

The Canadiens were handed their first loss of the season by the team they knocked out of the first round of the Playoffs last spring, they'll be trying to avoid losing their second game to their second round victims.

It feels a bit strange that the Habs have not yet played a home game with the season more than a week old, but the 2014-2015 Montreal Canadiens will be greeting their faithful for the first time on Thursday.

Who's Out

Marc Bergevin sent Michael Bournival down to the Bulldogs prior to the weekend, but indicated he'd be brought back to the team before next week. Alexei Emelin has missed the last two games with an upper body injury, but could be ready for action on Thursday.

The Bruins are missing Gregory Campbell (upper body), he has yet to play a game for the Bruins this season.

What Else

On Monday, Tomas Plekanec was named the NHL's First Star of the week for the first week of the season, it was the first time of his career he was named to the three stars of the week. Last season, Lars Eller was the league's Second Star in the first week of play. Only Carey Price earned First Star of the week honors among Canadiens players last year. Max Pacioretty earned Second and Third Star nods during the season.

The Question Mark

With the way these two teams ended last season, how should Michel Therrien set his line-up for Thursday's game?

Tonight's Show

Join myself, Rob Elbaz, along with Kosta Papoulias and Corey Collard for the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show as we go live at 6:30. Jimmy Murphy from Sirius XM and Web Sports Media's Top Shelf Radio will join us to break down the game from the Bruins perspective.