Friday, December 30, 2011

Habs Roundup: Louis Leblanc, Carey Price, Randy Cunneyworth and more

The Montreal Canadiens played, and lost to, the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. It was yet another game where Montreal let a third period lead slip away, a disturbing trend that is a prime suspect in the Canadiens woes this season.

I remember when the Habs made the trade for Tomas Kaberle, that I was embroiled in an argument on Twitter about how the Canadiens were just not a playoff team because they had too many holes. The person arguing with me asserted that the only problem with them was the powerplay.

Interesting, since a working powerplay won't help you protect a third period lead, but we are all entitled to our opinion.

The other assertion that was made was that Kaberle would be able to fix the broken powerplay. While there is no question Kaberle brings poise and passing ability to the back end, his recent track record (see his work is Boston and Carolina) suggest otherwise.

That said, as of this morning, the Habs PP currently sits 28th overall in the league at an abysmal 13.1 percent.


A case for Leblanc

If losing six out of seven games is the bad news, the good is that rookie Louis Leblanc looks like he is ahead of schedule. Moreover, he does not look out of place at all in the NHL.

He hasn't necessarily garnered a ton of attention either, due to his limited ice time (he averages 9:54 per game). But with five points (2G, 3A) and a plus-three rating in 14 games, Leblanc is one of only a handful of plus players on this team.

Just to give you an example of the Habs defensive woes, Tomas Plekanec, perennially near the top of the list, is a team-worst minus-10.

What's more amazing, is that if you look at the Habs scorers using the PowerScout Hockey 60-minute equivalent—i.e. looking at how many points each player would average, per 60-minutes of ice time, so that there is a common base—Leblanc would be tied as the third most productive Hab (with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn), averaging 2.2 points per 60 minutes.

Here's a chart of the top-10 Habs, sorted by points and using the 60-minute equivalent:

Pretty impressive numbers for the young man.

So the question is whether or not the Habs should keep Leblanc with the big club.

I can certainly see both sides of the argument, since Leblanc does not look out of place. In fact, playing with David Desharnais and Michael Cammalleri, Leblanc has been displaying his NHL caliber speed, creativity and tenacity on a regular basis.

The main consideration in this decision is that, at some point, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta will be back in the lineup. While I'd rather take Leblanc over either of those two players, the reality is that, unless the Habs can dump either or both they're going to play them.

So Leblanc will end up being the odd man out. Unless, of course, they want to keep him around just to play him five minutes per game on the fourth line. And I'm not a fan of that idea.

The other factor is that Leblanc is lacking physical maturity. That's something that will come with time and in the off season. But, for now, I think it would be better for him to dominate in Hamilton, while getting stronger, than playing for the mess that is the Montreal Canadiens.

Especially if the fourth line is the only place they can find a spot for him.

Price's Play

Much was made last night about Price's play on the second Tampa goal, where most felt he should have stopped the puck.

And, in all honesty, he should have. It was a shot from the outside that just trickled through his pads. And you never like to see a shot go through your goalie.

But let's be honest here for a second, how many wins would Montreal have this season without Price's brilliant play?

Two, maybe three? Less?

Montreal currently has 14 wins and Price has 13 of them. Of the 13 wins, Price has let in one goal six times, two goals three times, three goals twice and zero goals twice.

If you're doing that math, that means Montreal has only won twice when the opposition has scored three or more goals against.

I don't know about you, but that sounds more like a goal scoring problem than a save making one.

Changes with Cunneyworth

Poor Randy Cunneyworth. This guy just can't catch a break. Cunneyworth earned his first NHL win over the Sens the other night, but aside from that there has been precious little to cheer about.

Last night's loss to the Lightning just showcased how fragile this bunch is. Leading 3-1 in the third period only to lose 4-3? Horrible.

Even though the team continues to lose, you can see some differences between Cunneyworth and Jacques Martin's styles.

First of all, the Habs use a two-man forecheck most of the time. That's pretty revolutionary if you're Jacques Martin. The other big change is that, while he benched P.K. Subban and Lars Eller, Cunneyworth is not afraid to lean on his young guns.

And it's bringing out the best in players like Eller and Leblanc.

The problem is that the veterans are, for the most part, still lagging. Fortunately for Montreal, Michael Cammalleri finally broke his lack-of-scoring-streak and has one goal in each of the last two games.

He also potted his first powerplay goal of the year against the Lightning.

I know, 38 games in and the Habs top sniper final got his first powerplay goal. Is there any wonder why this team is floundering?

They won't make the playoffs

I hate to tell you folks, but the Habs chances of making the playoffs of slim and are shrinking by the day. And I am ready to say that they will not make the playoffs.

I know, I know, they're only six points out of the eighth and final spot.

But Montreal has played more games (38) than any team they trail. This means that Tampa (36), Buffalo (36), Washington (35), Ottawa (37) and Toronto (37) all have games in hand over the Habs.

Moreover, what too many people seem to forget is that it's not just about catching the eighth place team. It's also about passing the teams between 12 and eight.

What I mean by that is that in order for the Habs to catch Toronto (they are currently in eighth), Montreal would have to win three straight games to make up the six points.

But, at the same time, they would need Tampa, Buffalo, Washington, Ottawa and Toronto to all lose their next three games. Then, to stay in eighth, Montreal would need to keep winning and the teams trailing them would have to lose their games in hand.

And what are the chances of all of that happening? Slim to none.

The reality is that with 44 games left to play and 35 points in the standings, the Habs would need 58 points to reach the generally accepted 93-point playoff mark. That means 29 wins out of their remaining 44, for a blistering .659 winning percentage till the end of the season.

To put that in perspective, out of the top-10 teams with the highest winning percentage right now, only four are playing at or above .659—Boston (.721), the Rangers (.686), Chicago (.676) and the Flyers (.667).

So do you still think the Habs will qualify for the post season dance?

Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on and featured columnist on Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on TSN Radio 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM. Listen live at

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(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)


@anon: I don't know that you need to blow the whole thing up since there are some good pieces on the team.

What I do think, however, is that they should be sellers at the deadline.

Try to move veterans like Gionta and Cammalleri for prospects and picks.

But, before you do that, they need a new GM. There is nothing more terrifying than the thought of Pierre Gauthier presiding over a "save my job" fire sales.

i think i am the only Habs fan who thinks Price is overrated. I like this kid less and less every game. Always soft goals, bad puckhandling behind his net, i just think he gets too much hype
Anyway, Cam has to go, Gionta, Gill, and id even throw Plekanec away.
Cant remember the last time i watched a full game by the Habs....

@HfxHabby: I'd be hard pressed to call Price overrated. I think that it's tough for anyone to play in a losing system. It makes even the best players seem worse than they are.

Losing, on a consistent basis, tends to make the shoulder slump and makes everything a little harder. It's kind of like depression that way.

And when you're playing in that kind of atmosphere it usually negatively affects the results on the ice.

That said, if you read the part about Price, above, he is the only reason this team has any wins this season. I, personally, find it hard to call that overrated...

I don't know if Cammalleri and Gio being shipped out are the answer. I sense some serious chemistry with Cammer and LeBlanc. I'm curious to see what happens there. The love affair between Cammer and Plekanec is seriously dead, which has made Plekanec a much less effective player. Seems a little pricey at -9 at this point doesn't he?

Gionta is a heart and soul guy that the Habs seriously need to lean on right now. His injuries have made that impossible this year.

Not sure I'd go crazy and do too much of anything at this point. Unless Tampa comes in with a Vinny for Gomez offer...

I'm not really hating on Gauthier as much as everyone else. I like the Kaberle move. I think he was looking beyond this season with that move. He's also done a pretty good job at the draft. O'Byrne for Bournival was a killer move...I don't know. I think a lack of patience is getting the best of most Habs fans these days. We haven't had a write off season in a while. I think we were due Get rid of some dead weight on the back end and break in some new guys. Hamrlik, Spacek, Gill, Campoli, Weber become Markov, Kaberle, Subban, Diaz, Emelin with Tinordi and Beaulieu soon to arrive. I can live with that.

I'm not ready to panic. My wife will appreciate seeing me in the spring! ;) Especially with my first daughter due April 3....

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