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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Habs Mid-Season Report Card

The Habs 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, on Monday, marked the official mid-point of their season. Having now played 41 games and with ALMOST the entire team healthy, I thought it was a good time to review the 1st half of the season. I have provided an overall review, a look at special teams and grades for each player CURRENTLY on the roster broken down by position. Finally, I have listed the biggest surprises and the biggest disappointments so for. So here goes...


OVERALL, C:
From a team perspective, we know where we stand. The Habs are a .500 hockey team (19-19-3) and have 41 points in the standing. Repeating this same performance over the next 41 games will leave them with 82 points on the season - not nearly enough to make the playoffs. Needless to say, that Habs have to play better than .500 hockey if they want any chance of making the playoffs.

Now that the Habs are getting their injured warriors back (Markov, Gionta - Hamrlik is about a week or less away), we are finally starting to see what this team can really do. Keep in mind that the Habs played all but 5 games without Markov this year - who is one of the top three defensemen in the league. Also, Markov and Hamrlik - arguably the Habs top two defensemen - have not played in the same game yet this season i.e. one or the other has been hurt. Once the Habs get Hamrlik back - which could be this week - Montreal should be in much better shape. Perhaps not good enough to challenge the Penguins or Caps, but definitely good enough to beat the Leafs, Sens, Panthers and such, of the hockey world. These teams are the ones that the Habs are in a head-to-head battle with so, barring injury, the Habs SHOULD be able to make the playoffs.

Special Teams, A+:
With a powerplay and penalty kill that once ranked 25th - 28th in the league, the Habs have somehow turned things around. As of this morning, the Canadiens have the #1 power play in the league - a crown they have held in two of the last three seasons - clicking at a 25% success rate. The PP has been fueled by Marc-Andre Bergeron's (MAB) booming shots from the point and by Markov's return.

In addition, the Habs' PK unit now ranks 8th in the league operating at an 84.2% success rate. Both special teams plus solid goaltending have been the keys to the Habs success so far this season. That is a slightly worrisome stat, however, since the Habs are near the bottom of the league in 5 on 5 scoring. This is something they will have to correct, going forward, because as we all know, power plays are more difficult to come by during the playoffs.

Forwards:
Tomas Plekanec, A+
44 points (8G, 36A) in 41 games and is +8
Plekanec has simply been the Habs best and most consistent forward all season long. Also, as he has shot to the top of league scoring - he is currently tied for 7th overall with - Plekanec has been getting more and more physical attention/abuse from opposing players. No matter though, as Pleks is ready to fight through checks night after night. He is truly hitting his stride and will be an excellent addition to the Czech national team at the Olympics.

Mike Cammalleri, A
35 points (19G, 16A) in 41 games and is +12
With 19 goals in 41 games, Cammy is on pace to pot 38 goals this season. So much for him needing Jarome Iginla to be successful, eh? Also, he has not been a force on the PP like he was in Calgary. This year he only has 3 goals and 6 assists on the PP, meaning he is scoring more 5 on 5. That is a good thing for the Habs. The downside? Cammy has shown to be a bit of a streaky scorer, but that is usually the case with true snipers. This is witnessed by him scoring 6 goals over 7 games and then scoring zero goals over the following 6 games. The other slight problem is that Cammy doesn't/can't score much on the road as only 5 of his 19 goals have been scored away from the cozy confines of the Bell Center. That aside, Cammy has been an outstanding player for the Habs and is proving that Gainey made a good call in signing him for 5 years. Not to mention that he has fully embraced the history and pride that comes along with being a Montreal Canadiens. It says here that he should be the next captain of this team.

Andrei Kostitsyn, B
25 points (12G, 13A) in 38 games and is +4
Ahh Andrei, Andrei, Andrei. So talented and so young. Hopefully Jacques Martin has knocked some sense into him. When the season began, Martin said that his two biggest 'projects' this year were the two Kostitsyn brothers. The strategy he employed to get them on board was 'divide and conquer'. While Sergei was banished to his room (Hamilton) to think about what he had done (ride the bus and eat fast food), Andrei was kept in Montreal and was relegated to the 4th line. He was being punished for not conforming to the system. Then, when Martin thought he had enough, he slowly started giving Andrei more ice time, and it worked. After scoring 5 points (1G, 4A) over his first 20 games, Andrei got the message and woke up. Since then, he has scored 20 points (11G, 9A) over his next 18 games including at least 1 point in his last 6 games. Andrei is currently on pace to score 24 goals this season, but with a little vigor could get closer to 30. There is no question that Andrei is a 30+ goal man, and hopefully this season was the kick in the butt he needs to get over the hump.

Scott Gomez, C+
24 points (5G, 19A) in 37 games and is +1
When Bob Gainey traded (Chris Higgins, Ryan McDonough and Pavel Valentenko) to the NY Rangers in return for Gomez (and Pyatt), and then tried to pass him off as THE 1st line center we had been needing, a lot of people were upset. Upset because of his ridiculous salary - he is currently being paid 8 million dollars per season - and that Gainey gave up too much in adding McDonough to the mix. That being said, there is and was never any question that Gomez was a great player just that he is not, and will never be, an 8 millions dollar man. That aside, when the season started, Gomez looked pretty good lined-up next to Gomez. You could see the obvious chemistry the two of them had together and Gomez, while not putting up Earth-shattering numbers, we definitely contributing. However, when Gionta went down with a broken foot over a month ago, Gomez disappeared from the map. Night after night, he was completely invisible out there and not able to contribute at all. That changed, over the last 10 games or so, as Gomez seemed to be finding a bit of a groove and started putting points up on the board. Now that Gionta is back, that line - with Pouliot - looks like it might be a legitimate second line. Time will tell. That aside, Gomez has so far been a disappointment. He needs to bring more, over then next 41 games, and be close to a point per game player if the Habs are going to get into the playoffs.

Glen Metropolit, A+
19 points (10G, 9A) in 35 games and is -2
Quelle surpris! Aside from Plekanec, I would have to say that there has been no bigger surprise on the team than Glen Metropolit. Picked-up off of waivers last year, Metro has come in and pushed Maxim Lapierre out of the 3rd line center role. That is as much a reflection on Metro's good work as it is on Lapierre's bad work. Playing on a solid third line and contributing on the 2nd wave of the PP, Metro is currently on pace to pot 20 goals this season. Who woulda thunk it?!

Brian Gionta, A-
14 points (8G, 6A) in 20 games and is +3
Despite being injured for 27 games so far, Gionta has been another excellent off-season addition to this team. Aside from his play on the ice - he is on pace to score 20+ goals despite missing two thirds of the season so far - he has been a leader for this team in every way. He, along with Cammy, is another leading candidate for the vacant captaincy position on this team. Having him back, for the second half, should only help Gomez and could make the Habs give the Habs a 2-line scoring punch for the first time in years!

Max Pacioretty, C +
13 points (3G, 10A) in 41 games and is -4
MaxPac is currently on pace to score 26 points this season. That is not bad for a rookie but also not that great given the 'potential' we were told about him at the draft. When he was chosen, 21st overall two years ago, Timmins said that he was an Eric Cole type player. A true power forward that is extremely difficult to acquire via trade. While this may still prove to be true, MaxPac hasn't showed more than a few flashes so far this year. While it is true that he is playing in only his 1st full season and that with line mates Moen and Metro, he is not playing on a full-tilt offensive line, he still has not shown enough consistency. He is young, however, and I believe that a playoff run this year will go a long way towards helping him start to peak, next year.

Travis Moen, B+
10 points (7G, 3A) in 41 games and is -2
Moen has been a solid, consistent contributor all season. He comes exactly as advertised and is an excellent grinding, gritty player. He hits, he fights, he scores the occasional goal, he kills penalties and generally drives opposing defensemen crazy. Another solid pickup by Gainey. If there is one reproach, it is that -2 next to his name. While your 3rd and 4th lines won't score a lot, you expect them to at least keep the puck out of their own net.

Maxim Lapierre, D
8 points (2G, 6A) in 41 games and is -10
The 2008-2009 NHL season saw Maxim Lapierre arrive as an excellent NHL player. He beat out Kyle Chipchura for the 3rd line center spot and became an excellent player in all three zones. This season, however, Max has taken an unequivocal step back in his development. Expected to carry the third line with Latendresse and Moen, Max instead fell flat on his face. This can be evidenced by his -10 rating. Watching him on the ice is watching the epitome of tentativeness. Watch how often he pulls up on a hit rather than finishing his check. Maxim looks lost out there on the ice and is no longer helping the team in anyway. He, in my opinion, is a player that could be moved as part of a package, later in the year.

Matt D'Agostini, D-
4 points (2G, 2A) in 25 games and is -6
Speaking of players who could be moved a part of a package, Matt D'Agostini is another disappointment for the Habs. He looks like he is constantly on the verge of scoring but for some reason he just isn't able to find the handle. Granted, Dags was injured with a severe hit vs. Chicago earlier this year and missed significant time with a concussion. But even before that, you could see that the effort was there but that the results are just not coming.

Sergei Kostitsyn, D
4 points (1G, 3A) in 18 games and is -4
And that brings us to player #3 on the trade bait list. Sergei, to his credit, eventually took his lumps like a man when he saw that there was no way out of the Martin-Gainey snare. He put his head down and worked his butt of in Hamilton to make himself a better player. Since being called up, you can see that Sergei has checked his ego at the door. The problem is that he is not producing or contributing anything to this team. He used to be a gritty, aggressive player but now he seems like a soft, lost player. He is currently playing on the 4th line and if there is one thing we have learned with Martin, it is that the 4th line means that you are replaceable. We'll see what the trade deadline brings.

Georges Laraque, F
2 points (0G, 2A) in 22 games and is -6
I'll be short on this one. The Habs simply have no use for Laraque. He is a fighter who never wants to fight. He is a bully who refuses to intimidate. He is a heavy weight who needs a written invitation to beat someone up. He adds nothing to this team and takes away 1.5 million dollars of cap space. Release him on waivers or buy him out immediately. That would be my call.

Benoit Pouliot, N/A – too early, but so far so good!
1 point (1G, 0A) in 3 games and is EVEN
Again, too early to tell anything, he it is clear that Pouliot has a high level of raw talent. It remains to be seen whether Martin can mold him into an elite player or not. Keep in mind that he was drafted 4th overall.

Defence:
Ryan O'Byrne, C
0 points (0G, 0A) in 22 games and is -2
Up and down season for OB. He started strong and looked to be filling the void left by Komisarek's departure until he went down with an injury in the 2nd game of the season. When he initially came back from injury, he looked like he was picking up where he left off. Since then, however, he has been up and down. At points, he has looked like the lost, confidence-less player of last season. At other times he has been throwing his hulking 6'5" frame around with great effect. I still think that he will become a solid 4-6th defenseman for the Habs. You never want to quit on a young defenseman as it takes much long for D-man to learn the NHL game than forwards.

Paul Mara, C-
7 points (0G, 7A) in 34 games and is -12
While there is no questioning Mara heart - playing through injury, putting it all out there on ever shift, sticking up for teammates - Mara just doesn't seem to be a very good defenseman and his -12 rating times him for 18th worst in the league. Not good. Not good at all. Mara, is another player who could potentially be moved as part of a package. His 1-year contract is not abusive and whether it is this year or next, I believe that Mara will be the spare part that will disappear to make room for youth (i.e. Subban and/or Weber).

Josh Gorges, B+
7 points (2G, 5A) in 41 games and is +1
Josh is as consistent as any player on the Habs and has been for years now. You might not notice him on the ice and that is because he neither does anything fancy nor does he make many mistakes. He is always a consistently solid 5th-7th D-man and great in the locker room too.

Andrei Markov, A+
7 points (3G, 4A) in 6 games and is +3
What can be said about one of is not THE best defenseman in the league. While we all missed Markov while he was out of the lineup, having him back has reminded us all just how good a player he is. Markov is THE General on this team and leads, on the ice, from the back end. Whether is it his great 1st pass, his jumping in offensively, blocking shots, cutting off passes or quarterbacking the power play, Markov does it all and excels at all aspects of his game. Give this guy a full season, this year, and he is in the running for the Norris Trophy.

Jaroslav Spacek, A+
12 points (3G, 9A) in 39 games and is +7
AND
Roman Hamrlik, A+
14 points (5G, 9A) in 34 games and is -2
Spacek and Hamrlik both get top mark and I combined them because they have both been invaluable to the Habs this season. No other players on this team took more on their shoulders when Markov went down with an injury in the 1st game of the season. Playing 20+ (and often 25+) minutes a game 5 on 5, on the PK and on the PP, Spacek and Hamrlik, both over 35 years old, have played well above their physical age and have done an excellent job of anchoring an injury riddled defensive squad in the absence of Markov. It is frightening to think how bad the Habs would have been without their yeoman-like service.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, B+
21 points (9G, 12A) in 34 games and is -5
Along with Metro and Plekanec, MAB has been a pleasant surprise for the Habs and a need weapon on the PP. His booming shot from the point falls in line with the likes of Sheldon Souray and Mark Streit and has again helped the Habs PP rocket to #1 in the league. While there is no question that MAB has many weaknesses on the defensive side of the puck, his offensive prowess and his 750K salary make his a great addition to this team. In all honesty, he should play 5 mins a game on the 4th line, and on the 1st PP unit, and that's it. Keep him away from having any defensive responsibility and he could be an excellent, and cheap, keeper for years to come.

Hal Gill, C-
2 points (1G, 1A) in 27 games and is -4
Hal Gill is Hal Gill. He isn't flash, he is very slow, he makes a ton of turnovers but he does have some redeeming qualities. He is an incredible shot-blocker and is likely one of the Habs best penalty killers, down-low. Watching his lie down on the ice to block the cross-crease passing lane, is a thing of beauty. He is also apparently an excellent player in the locker room. So far this season, Hal has performed up to the top of his capabilities which are, unfortunately, severely limited by his excessively slow foot speed. I, personally, would not have signed him in the off-season and definitely not for three seasons but we are stuck with him now. If we keep in mind that he is extremely limited in what he can do but that he can put in a decent 10-15 mins and be a top PKer, then our expectations will be managed. If we are expecting anything more from him, then we will be extremely disappointed.

Goalies:
Carey Price, B+
26GP, 9W, 13L, 2.74 GAA, .912 SV%, 0 shutouts
While he started his season flat, and the team in front of him was terrible, Price found his groove and flashed the brilliance that we all knew he had within him. While he hasn't fully grabbed the reigns yet, he looks ready to do so. Keep in mind that he is still only 22 years old and goaltenders don't tend to reach their full capacity until they have had four or five years under their belt - as witnessed by the Pens Fleury. Give Price another year or so and he will be among the elite keepers in the league.

Jaroslav Halak, A+
17GP, 10W, 6L, 2.56 GAA, .924 SV%, 1 shutout
What could be better than asking to be traded and then going out to steal four game in a row AND subsequently being named the 1st star of the week by the NHL? Not much. Right now, the Habs are sitting pretty in net and sitting even prettier on the trade market as Halak's stock continues to climb. Halak is, in my opinion, the perfect example of a goalie that needs a few years of seasoning before he is able to show that he is truly a #1 goalie in this league. With every 40+ save performance he has, Halak is showing that he has arrived and that he is ready to take a team on his back. I think that Halak represents the Habs best trading asset this year and combined with a player or two and/or a pick or two, Gainey should be able to put together a deal to bring a star player to the team.

Biggest Surprises This Season:
Tomas Plekanec, MAB, Glen Metropolit

Biggest Disappointments This Season:
Maxim Lapierre, George Laraque


Agree with my ratings? Disagree? Let me know in the comment section and VOTE on Habs To The Top (http://www.HabsAddict.com). Poll closes Jan 16th, 2010 during the third period of the Ottawa game.

K.

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