Thursday, October 30, 2014

5 Reasons For The Habs Early Season Success

Greetings Habs Nation,

There was a lot of optimism surrounding the Montreal Canadiens heading into the current NHL season. The Habs were coming off of a playoff run that saw them reach the Eastern Conference finals only to fall to the New York Rangers in six games. The Team became bigger by replacing Francis Bouillon, Josh Gorges and captain Brian Gionta with the likes of Tom Gilbert, Manny Malhotra, P.A. Parenteau and Jiri Sekac and their young stars Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher had another year of experience under their belts.

Fast forward to the present, the Habs sit on top of the Eastern Conference with an 8-2 record and share the league lead with the Anaheim Ducks.

Optimistic or not, raise your hands if you saw this kind of start for the Canadiens. Good, now put our hands down because you're lying.

With all of the success, fans around the city are all weighing in on why the team is finding success so early in the season (actually a fair amount are calling for coach Michel Therrien's head because Habs fans will be Habs fans). The following points are why I believe the Canadiens are looking like an early contender in the East.

1. CHaracter

When Marc Bergevin took the reigns as the new GM of the Montreal Canadiens in May of 2012 he right away spoke of the importance of character in the roster. The word "character" came up multiple time whenever a new player was signed or any time a question was directed towards him really. Fans calling in to TSN690 and all over twitter would make their jokes and sarcastically comment on Bergevin's constant talk of character, but there has been a lot less of that mockery in recent days.

The Canadiens are 8-2 despite having a goal differential of +1. Winning eight of ten games while only outscoring their opponents by one goal shows that they are winning those tight games. Every team wins their fair share of close games but to win so many consistently shows character.

If that's not enough, the Canadiens have scored the first goal only twice. Their record after giving up the first goal is 6-2. Winning 75% of the games in which you've been scored on first is unheard of. Jokes aside, it takes character to never give up. Down 3-0 going into the third period IN Philadelphia? no problem, 4-3 win in overtime. Detroit has you scoreless with three minutes remaining in the final frame? Don't worry, Galchenyuk will battle Kyle Quincey to the ice, climb over him and bury the puck past Howard on a nifty wrap around en route to a 2-1 overtime win.

This team doesn't want to lose. This team doesn't give up. This team has character.

2. Carey Price

It doesn't hurt your team's chances of winning when you have arguably the best goalie in the world between the pipes. Price has been good enough to backstop his team to seven out of the eight games he's started and he hasn't even reached his full potential yet. His .923 save % is seventh among goalies who have played five or more games and will likely rise. His GAA of 2.43 puts him 12th among goalies with five or more games played and will no doubt improve. The 7-1 pounding delivered by the Tampa Bay Lightning (four goals were given up by Price, three by back up Dustin Tokarski) dampened his numbers but it's a long season and he'll no doubt lower that average.
Carey Price is a huge part of the Habs success and has yet
to reach his full potential.

The Habs won early on while he looked less than stellar and his recent performances against the Red Wings, Rangers and Flames should provide his team with even more confidence than they've been playing with thus far.

3. Health

The Montreal Canadiens have health on their side. Yes, I knocked on wood so please refrain from any  drastic reactions to me pointing out this element of their success. The Canadiens have missed roughly two man-games to injury so far. The healthier a team, the quicker and stronger each line's confidence and chemistry grows. Tomas "TurtlePlek" Plekanec and Galchenyuk have shown phenomenal chemistry playing together and the longer they play together the more they'll light up the lamp. David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty are finding their groove and should produce consistently if Pacioretty can finally play an 82 game season. Although, to be fair Patches heals at a rate roughly 100 times faster than any normal human being so he should be good to go.

4. Depth


Tomas Plekanec's opportunity to play a more offensive role
has paid off so far as he has nine points in ten games.
While the Habs' health is playing an important role in their success, they have the depth to bail them out in the event that they do deal with an injury or two. Their depth up front has Michael Bournival and newcomer Jiri Sekac watching the games from the press box. Michel Therrien has had the good fortune this year to shuffle the deck mid-game to get his team going if needed. Parenteau replaced Sekac on the Desharnais-Pacioretty line in Philly en route to their comeback from a three goal deficit.

Bringing in Manny Malhotra to take face offs and kill penalties adds depth to their defensive end giving Plekanec more offensive responsibilities. The alternate captain (one of... like... 12) gas responded by putting up a team leading five goals and nine points. More than that, he is noticeably happy. When was the last time you saw the normally straight faced Plekanec smile and celebrate so much after a goal?

On the backend, Nathan Beaulieu has been spending the majority of the games watching from above but he's readily available to jump in if needed, as is Greg Pateryn who's is playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

It's worth considering having Beaulieu, Bournival and Sekac play with the Bulldogs rather than be on the sidelines just to get some playing time. Demote them to keep them in game shape? Keep them to watch the game from a different point of view and be ready if called upon? These are problems any GM would want.

Heck, the Habs even started the pre-season with three goalies!

5. Michel Therrien

I feel as though if any of my reasons for the Habs success are going to be slandered it's this one. Therrien is not the most popular man in Montreal. His insistence on playing Rene Bourque despite his production baffles the majority of Habs fans and even media. His decision to bench Lars Eller after only five minutes of ice time in the recent win over the Calgary Flames has lead people to believe that Eller is his whipping boy. Therrien putting both Dale Weise and Travis Moen in the line up on the same nights while sitting more offensive minded players like Michael Bournival and Jiri Sekac has many, including myself, scratching their heads (it could be dry scalp but I'd like to think it's MT's line-up decisions).

Lars Eller has been one to respond on the ice after being benched in the past. It could be that Therrien knows his players better than the fans (crazy, right?!). Each player is sparked differently, it's for that I don't go for Therrien's jugular when hearing about Eller's night off. Plus, as mentioned above the Habs depth provides Therrien the luxury of this approach while giving Michael Bournival a chance to play in his first game this season.

Therrien's decisions will never make all of Habs nation happy. The Canadiens sit atop the standings with an 80% win rate and fans are still complaining about anything they can, most notably the coach. There are a few things I myself question such as Sekac's lack of ice time and at the opposite end of the spectrum, Travis Moen's... well, Travis Moen is getting minutes.

Despite people's minor or major problems with him, Therrien, in his second go as the Canadiens head coach, had his team finish first in the NorthEast in 2012-13, brought them to within six wins from the Stanley Cup in 2013-14 and has an 8-2 record early in the 2014-15 season.

You may not like him, but Michel Therrien is a big reason for the Montreal Canadiens' Success.

What are your thoughts on the Canadiens quick start?
Have I ignored any important factor?
Are any of the above reasons given more credit than deserved?















Game 11 - Canadiens at Canucks

#MTLHockey Preview

montreal canadiens vs vancouver canucks nhl 

Match Up

The Canadiens (8-2-0) wrap up their road trip Thursday night with a visit to Vancouver to face the Canucks (6-3-0). The puck drops at 10:00 and the game airs on RDS and SN360.

This is the first of two meetings between the Habs and Canucks this season, they'll meet again at the Bell Centre in early December to close out the series. Last year, the Canadiens dominated their two games against Vancouver, scoring 4-1 and 5-2 victories. Max Pacioretty had four goals against the Canucks last season, including a hat trick in the 5-2 home win.

What to Watch

Tom Gilbert picked up his first goal as a Canadien Tuesday night in Calgary, helping the team draw even against the Flames. If Pacioretty was looking for an opportunity to step up his game, there's no time like the present. The Canadiens' leading goal scorer last season has lit the lamp just three times in the first ten games, leaving him on a pace well shy of the 39 goals he had last year.

The Sedin twins are back in fine form to start this season, Daniel and Henrik each have 11 points the nine games to start the year. Ryan Miller is off to a strong start as well with a 6-1-0 record through is first seven games as a Canuck. The only goalie with more wins than Miller will be occupying the crease 180 feet away. Carey Price leads the league with seven wins.

What's at Stake

The season keeps moving along and the Habs keep distancing themselves from their competition. Montreal has a three point lead over Tampa and a six point cushion on the Bruins; Long Island, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Ottawa are all four points back or more with varying games on hand. While there is plenty of hockey left to play, the Canadiens have and early edge in the East and can build on their advantage with every point.

Who's Out

The question of who's out keeps popping up keeps popping up for the Habs, but it has nothing to do with injuries. Jiri Sekac has been a healthy scratch for the past four games, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu have split duties occupying the final defensive spot, while Michael Bournival has yet to see action this season, despite suiting up for 60 games last year.

The Canucks have been without defenseman Ryan Stanton (lower body) for much of the season. He is expected to return to action soon, but will likely miss Thursday's game.

What Else

The Canadiens have scored just one goal over the two games they've played in Alberta already this week. They still have yet to score a power play marker on the road, and they've scored just six goals in their last five road games. Three of their four road wins have come by way of shoot out. All that to say, the Habs has had trouble scoring on the road and they'll need to find a way to correct that as a team if they hope to have continued success.

The Question Mark

The Habs have picked up 16 out of a possible 20 points to start the season, but how many points have they deserved?

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 9:00 on Thursday to preview the Canadiens and the Canucks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Game 10 - Canadiens at Flames

#MTLHockey Preview

HabsFlamesMatch Up

The Canadiens (7-2-0) are in Calgary Tuesday night to face the Flames (5-4-1) at the Saddledome. The game is set to start at 9:00 and can be seen on RDS2 and City-Montreal.

This is the first of two games between the Habs and Flames this season, they'll meet again this coming Sunday back at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Last season the teams split their two meetings, with Carey Price and the Canadiens earning a 2-0 win on home ice. The Habs got goals from Rene Bourque and David Desharnais to help power them to victory.

What to Watch

For the first time this season, the Habs were shut out Monday night against the Oilers, a 3-0 defeat, despite directing 29 shots at Ben Scrivens. Manny Malhotra had a rare off night at the faceoff dot, winning just 41.7% of his draws. It marked the first game this season that Malhotra ended the game under 50% on the draw.

24-year-old Calgary native Joe Colborne is of to the hottest start of his career with eight assists in ten games. Colbourne is playing on a line with Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan. Defenseman TJ Brodie, also got off to a strong start this season and parlayed that into a five-year, 4.65 million AAV contract extension.

What's at Stake

The Canadiens are still on top of the NHL, but things can change very quickly in this league. With division rivals like the Lightning and Bruins facing injury trouble early this season, the Habs should be looking to build up their cushion while they have a chance. The team will also want to bounce back after being held goalless the night before.

Who's Out

Czech rookie Jiri Sekac has been a healthy scratch for the past three games, but after the team's poor offensive showing on Monday he could finally draw back into the line-up. Jarred Tinordi was left in the press box on Monday as well in favor of Nathan Beaulieu.

The Flames were without winger David Jones (lower body) for most of this season, but he's expected to make his return on Tuesday. Mason Raymond is day-to-day with an upper body injury and is expected to miss the game against the Habs.

What Else

While the Canadiens had another strong night on the penalty kill Monday, they also continued to struggle on the power play, going 0-for-4. The Habs are now 23rd in the league with the man advantage, scoring just three times on 26 opportunities, including an empty net power play goal against the Bruins. The Canadiens have generated a mere 34 power play shots this season, adding three shots on four PP attempts on Monday.

The Question Mark

What do the Habs need to do to improve their power play?

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 8:00 on Tuesday to preview the Flames and Canadiens.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Game 9 - Canadiens at Oilers

#MTLHockey Preview

montreal canadiens vs edmonton oilers nhl

Match Up

The Canadiens (7-1-0) head west to open a three-game Western Canada road trip against the Oilers (3-4-1) Monday night. The game starts at 9:30 and can be seen on RDS and Sportsnet.

This is the first of two meetings between the Habs and Oilers, Edmonton will come to Montreal in February to complete the series. Last season the teams split their season series, the Habs scored a 4-1 win in Edmonton, while the Oilers took a 4-3 decision in Montreal less than two weeks later.

What to Watch

The Canadiens' penalty kill was working well during their home-stand. The Canadiens killed off 11 of 12 power plays in the last four games and added a short-handed goal in Saturday's match against the Rangers. Max Pacioretty set up Tomas Plekanec for the short-handed marker and added a goal to give him seven points on the year, six of which came in the last four games.

The Oilers have plenty of scoring threats up front including Taylor Hall (4g, 3a), Jordan Eberle (2g, 4a) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (3g, 1a), but the team still struggles to keep goals out of their own net. The team is middle of the pack in terms of goals for, but with an average of 3.88 goals against per game, they're dead last in the NHL in that department.

What's at Stake

The Canadiens can have first place in the NHL all to themselves with a win or OT loss on Monday. The Habs were a perfect 4-0-0 at home and will look to extend their four-game win streak with a strong showing against the Oilers, who sit in last place in the Pacific division.

Who's Out

Brendan Gallagher missed some of Saturday's game but returned in time to help the Habs close out a 3-1 win over the Rangers. Aside for that the Canadiens have been healthy, meaning Michel Therrien has had to make some difficult line-up decision. Nathan Beaulieu hasn't seen action since the team's 7-1 loss in Tampa prior to their home-stand, while Jiri Sekac has missed the last two games.

Edmonton is missing winger Luke Gazdic (shoulder) and goalie Viktor Fasth (groin).

What Else

The Canadiens will blow into Western Canada like a whirlwind with three games in four nights, before returning home to host the Flames on Sunday. The Canadiens won three of four games on a similar trip last season, though this year they won't travel to Winnipeg just yet. With such a tight schedule, expect Dustin Tokarski to suit up for his second start of the season at some point this week.

The Question Mark

What aspect of Montreal's game has impressed you the most so far this season, which part could use improvement?

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 8:30 to preview the Canadiens and Oilers.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Eight thoughts after eight games

Hey Habs fans. It's been a while since I lasted posted here and I have a few thoughts on the Habs and NHL I wish to share with you. Please feel free to weigh in and comment.

The Schedule. The schedule makers did Montreal no early favors starting them off with a tough four games in six night road trip. Then, immediately after the first home-stand which ended last night vs. the NY Rangers, the Canadiens pack their bags and head out on a Western Canada road trip through Alberta and BC. In fact, the Habs play virtually either every night or every other night right through December 5th. The following week they play just twice. It will be interesting to see how the fatigue factor comes into effect with so much hockey to be played the next six weeks or so.

Goaltending Just prior to the start of the regular season on October 5th, GM Marc Bergevin traded veteran goaltender Peter Budaj to the Winnipeg Jets for forward Eric Tangradi. The move effectively made rookie Dustin Tokarski the new backup to starter Carey Price. There was some concern heading into the season about the health of Price, whose playoff run ended early on this dirty play by Rangers pest Chris Krieder. Price has proven that he is back and better than ever. Through his first seven starts, he has allowed 18 goals on 190 shots for a .913 save %and a 2.67 goals against average. Those numbers are improving every game and are bound to improve as the season progresses. Meanwhile, Tokarski has made two appearances, starting in Washington and performing mop-up duty in TB. I'm not worried about the goaltending. This tandem of Price and Tokarski will give the Habs a chance to win on most nights.

Canada's Team? Although it is a brief sample, after eight games, Montreal looks like Canada's best hope to win a Stanley Cup. Toronto has its usual goaltending problems, Ottawa is also off to a good start, but they are a young team and will not be able to sustain the effort all season. In the west, the Canucks have a older team and are atrocious in the faceoff circle. Winnipeg's Evander Kane has demanded a trade and anytime you have an unhappy player in the locker room it creates division. Also, the team still very much resembles the one it inherited when Atlanta relocated to Winnipeg three seasons ago. Edmonton has a comical way of defending and Calgary is very much in a rebuilding stage, likely in the running for Connor McDavid. Montreal currently has a great mix of players who are just entering their prime at the same time, from defenseman PK Subban to Price. The Habs resemble the 2011 Vancouver Canucks squad who dominated the league and nearly brought the Stanley Cup back to Canada.

The Refereeing. So far, the refereeing hasn't been stellar. Case in point, opening night Toronto scored a goal that should have been blown dead due to an obvious offside. The following night vs. Washington, the Habs had two goals called back in the 3rd period. This season, the referees are conferencing on controversial calls. I'm still an advocate for increased video review, especially on goals that should or should not be counted. I think penalty calls should continue to be discretionary with the exception of too many men on the ice calls. That penalty is not called often enough in my opinion. I also think coaches challenges are worth trying in the AHL or junior league or a preseason game next year.

Shootouts. The shootout has been a controversial addition to NHL games. Introduced after the 2003-04 lockout in an effort to make sure there are no ties in hockey, many games that have gone beyond 60 minutes have been decided in the shootout. There are many fans who argue that the shootout is not a fair way to decide a game. There are some teams that just aren't good at a shootout. The Vancouver Canucks have been traditionally bad at it. Also, you might have a game where one side plays awful but manages to get to a shootout and because they are good at the skill game they win. In an effort to cut down on the number of games decided by the shootout, the NHL implemented a few changes. First, at the end of regulation there is a dry scrape of the ice. Second teams switch ends, thus making line changes harder when tired. Finally, the spin-o-rama has been eliminated as a legal move in the shootout. Have the changes worked? Of the 27 games that have gone beyond regulation time, 15 of them have required a shootout. I think the switching of sides is a good idea but perhaps the dry scrape has the opposite effect. By dry scraping the ice, the puck sticks  to the surface. Teams need more incentive to win in regulation or OT. I propose that teams get three points for winning in regaulation, two for overtime and just a single point for winning in a shootout. The losing team gets nothing at all.

Expansion/Relocation. There has been much debate of expanding the league by a couple of teams. Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City. Before considering expansion, one has to ask whether there is enough viable NHL talent that an expansion team would win consistently? Currently the Carolina Hurricanes are winless and there are several teams that have won just twice in their 7 or 8 games. There is an imbalance of talent between conferences with the West generally dominating and the Eastern conference having a few teams doing well, including your Habs. If the NHL wants to go the relocation route, Florida would be a prime candidate to move. Their attendance has been abysmal the last few seasons, especially this one. Part of the problem is the Panthers aren't winning despite having to spend tons of money on high-end talent just to make the cap floor. Also, the Panthers are having to compete with the MLB (Miami Marlins), NFL (Miami Dolphins), college football, and NBA (Miami Heat). In my opinion, the league should not consider expansion but should definitely consider relocating teams like Florida and Carolina. I highly doubt the league would simply fold a team like Florida due to loss of revenue. Instead, I can see the league relocating to a more viable location.

Ottawa Tragedy I would like to give a shoutout to the fallen Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was gunned down Wednesday in a terrorist attack that could have ended so much worse if not for the quick action of Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers who killed the lone gunman. Like many of you I was moved by the actions of bystanders who tried in vain to save the fallen Cirillo. Kudos to every NHL team who played the Canadian anthem and honored our fallen soldier, I wish MLB had followed suit instead of simply releasing a statement on behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays. I do not wish to turn this blog into a political debate. However, we must not condone the actions of extremists. In times like this week, we are not Habs fans, we are Canadian citizens who stand together as one united voice that terrorists will not win. Please hug your loved ones tonight and keep in your thoughts and prayers those currently fighting overseas and/or enrolled in the military. #OttawaStrong.

Playoff Rematch. Montreal faced Tampa Bay, Boston and NY Rangers respectively in their lengthy playoff run last season. Already they have had one game against each this season. One has to wonder if the Habs would have beaten Tampa Bay if a healthy Steven Stamakos was available. When the Habs faced the Lightning, Stamakos had only recently returned from a bad break in his leg on this play. Based on the start he has had this season, if he was healthy last season, the Habs would have had a tougher fight on their hands at the very least. The Habs defeated the Bruins in an entertaining battle that featured 10 goals. Finally tonight, they exacted their revenge in a clinical 3-1 victory over the Rangers. Not surprisingly, Chris Kreider was booed mercifully after he took out Carey Price in last year's playoffs. All in all, it's great to see the start Montreal has had to their season

Go Habs Go

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Game 8 - Canadiens vs Rangers

#MTLHockey Preview

Habs-Rangers

Match Up

The Canadiens (6-1-0) play host to the Rangers (4-3-0) Saturday night at the Bell Centre in an Eastern Conference Final rematch. The game starts at 7:00 with a special ceremony in honor of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent that will be shown on CBC, Sportsnet ONE, City, and TVA Sports, as well as the NHL Network for U.S viewers.

This is the first of three meetings between the Habs and Blueshirts, and the only one in Montreal. Last year the teams met three times in the regular season with each game ending as a shutout. Cam Talbot, Carey Price and Peter Budaj all posted shutout wins during the series, while Henrik Lundqvist was the only goalie to give up more than a single goal in one of these games, allowing a pair in a 2-0 loss.

These teams me again in the Eastern Conference Final with the Rangers eliminating the Habs in 6 games. Carey Price was forced out of the series after just two periods when Chris Kreider collided with the Habs netminder.

What to Watch

While slow starts continue to be an issue plaguing the Canadiens, the questions about Carey Price's slow start have subsided. Price has 3 straight wins since being pulled in Tampa, and has made 59 saves on 62 shots in his last two starts. Don't look now but Alexei Emelin has quietly put up five assists in five games this season. Emelin logged a season high 24:58 Tuesday night against the Wings.

19-year-old Montreal native Anthony Duclair will be dressed for Saturday's game, the rookie has three assists in five games and is still looking for his first NHL goal. The Habs will need to keep a close watch on Rick Nash whenever he's on the ice, Nash has eight goals in seven games this year.

What's at Stake

The Habs have already faced the two teams they eliminated in last year's playoffs, now they get to try for a bit of revenge of their own. With a win on Saturday, the team will match a franchise record for most wins in their first eight games, although the 1961-62 Canadiens earned 15 of their first 16 points. A win would also help the Habs keep pace with the league leading Anaheim Ducks who sit two points ahead of Montreal after their win on Friday.

Who's Out

Nathan Beaulieu has been sent back down to Hamilton along with Michael Bournival to get at least some game action and both are expecting to be called back up after the weekend. Other than that the Habs are healthy as they look to close out their first home-stand of the season.

The Rangers are missing two big pieces in Dan Boyle (hand) and Derek Stepan (leg). Since joining the Rangers in the off-season, Boyle has played in just one regular season game seeing 14 minutes of action before breaking his hand while blocking a shot.

What Else

The Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Senators will hold a special, coordinated tribute in their home buildings for slain Canadian soldiers Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. The event is being described as a show of solidarity and a way to show appreciation for the men and women whose selfless actions stopped the attackers and aided the victims. Senators owner, Eugene Melnyk, had this to say on the event in his statement posted on the Ottawa Senators' Website:
As we continue to reflect on the tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of two our country’s soldiers on Canadian soil, we do so with heavy hearts. But what doesn’t break us, makes us stronger. Today our country stands more united than ever and so does the entire NHL family. We are very pleased to join forces with the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs in coordinating a unique and special tribute prior our game on Saturday in honour and recognition of these two brave soldiers, their families and all members of our Canadian military.

The Question Mark

After having several month to look back, how do you feel about Chris Kreider and his collision with Price last Spring?

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 tonight to preview the Canadiens and the Rangers.

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?