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Friday, March 16, 2012

Dissecting the Montreal Canadiens: Early March 2012 Edition

As the Canadiens enter what is to be their last full month of play, they have displayed some reasonably impressive hockey, posting a 4-2-1 record.

While it's unfortunate that the Canadiens recent play is no doubt too little too late, it is at least an indication that the Habs are in fact better than they've shown thus far.

Lack of Offensive Depth

So far, the Habs have been averaging 3.4 goals a game in March, including four games where they found the back of the net four times or more.

What's worrisome — or impressive,depending on how you view the glass — is that, of the 24 goals scored in the last seven games, Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais have accounted for 13 of them. That number is inflated to15 if you also count Desharnais's two shootout winners.

Cole has been the least productive member of the Habs top trio with five goals and two assists over his last seven games. A point per game pace being the bottom of the pack shows just how productive the Canadiens top line has been.

David Desharnais has notched eight points (3G,5A) of his own in his six games played while Pacioretty has been leading the way with 12 points (5G,7A).

Lars Eller (3), Tomas Plekanec (1) and Blake Geoffrion (1 ) are the only other forwards to score so far in March.

P.K. Subban (3) and Tomas Kaberle (1) combine for the remaining four goals. That leaves the top line with 73.7% of the Habs goals scored by forwards and 60.9% of the entire team's goals. Those percentages do not include the two aforementioned shootout winners provided by Double D.

Subban Finds His Game

Subban has struggled to find success at times this year but has had no trouble delivering consistent play during the team's recent winning stretch. During the Canadiens' 4-2-1 run, Subban has registered three goals and five assists. What's most promising about his recent point production is that four of them came on the powerplay, including all three of his goals.

Those eight points give Subban a point total of 31, just seven shy of last year's total. Subban is also a plus-3 over the seven game stretch, a big difference from his minus-8 last season.

Markov Provides A Spark

There is no question that the return of Andrei Markov was the highlight of the Canadiens' past week. Who am I kidding? Markov's return is by far the highlight of the entire Canadiens' season.

Since returning to the line up, Markov has seen his team go 2-0-1, earning five out of a possible six points.

Markov hardly seems rusty as he is averaging 17:26 minutes of ice time per game and just under 1:30 minutes of powerplay time per game. He may be minus-2 but it's no coincidence that the Habs have earned points in every game since his return.

Brad Staubitz and Ryan White Provide Sparks of Their Own

Brad Staubitz and Ryan White combined for four fights in the past seven games. Both of White's fights came in the Minnesota game and both were against Stephane Veilleux. Four fights in seven games may not seem like much but when you consider the Canadiens fought only 17 times in their previous 71—White and Staubitz accounting for three of those as well—you can see a significant increase in on ice policing.

Special Teams Clicking and Pacioretty Perseveres

The Habs have buried seven goals on their last 20 powerplay chances for a 35% conversion rate while killing 19 of their last 21 shorthanded situations for a 90.5% survival rate.

On Tuesday, Max Pacioretty was named as the Montreal Canadiens candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy. The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Pacioretty's nomination doesn't come as a shock as he returned from a career threatening—as well as life threatning, honestly—injury after sustaining a serious concussion as well as a broken neck after being pummeled into the Bell Center stanchion by Bruins' behemoth Zdeno Chara last March.

Pacioretty bounced back this season, setting career numbers in goals (30), assists (27) and points (57). Currently, Mighty Max is one of only 13 NHL players this year to reach the 30 goal plateau and with eleven games remaining he will undoubtedly bury a few more.

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Sean is a freelance writer currently contributing to HabsAddict.com. He is also a regular blogger and frequent panelist on the Habs post game show at MontrealHockeyTalk.com

You can follow Sean on Twitter.

(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images North America)

6 comments:

As encouraging as it is to see the Habs start to click late here in the season, its discouraging to see that it could cost them the difference between a top 3 pick and a top 10 pick. Sure the draft is a crap-shoot, but a Grigorenko can plug into a lineup next season and potentially bury 50-60 points at the NHL level, based on production from the past 5 years worth of top picks. (Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Hall, Tavares). Top 10 might be a solid player, but need a year or two of seasoning.

As much as I like seeing the spark, after 65 miserable games, I really don't want to see them light it up for the final 15. IMO, a top 3 pick can be a franchise changer and I really don't want to see them lose that for a few meaningless points.

Sorry, I missed Kane and Nugent-Hopkins in the mix too, and obviously it was more than 5 years worth of top picks. All I am trying to show is that those top picks can be instant NHL production, potential faces of the franchise.

Big difference in a Stamkos vs a Michael Boedker.

And if Yakupov/Grigorenko are the top forwards, easily flip-floppable... Edmonton needs D... I want to pick 3 not 7-10.

I agree 100%
While its good to see the confidence instilled in the team just by Markov's presence, I would have much preferred see him return either at the beginning of the season or with maybe 5 games left.

Although there is no guarantee that the Habs will continue their winning ways, they still lack depth up front and are missing a few pieces in the back end even with Markov back.

Just to add, I touch on the negative aspect of Markov's return in some quick hits over on montrealhockeytalk.com

The Habs are a better team than their record indicates, so I'm not surprised they are winning some games! With Markov's return that solidified our blue line, the most pressing need is to find secondary scoring on offense as players like Bourque, Geoffrion, Leblanc and Palushaj are producing enough at the moment.

Good stuff Sean!

I've got to say that Markov and the Habs first line are the stories of the month, to be sure.

The disturbing part is that, as Fred points out, the Habs have no secondary scoring. That doesn't tend to get you very far in this league and is hopefully something the team will address in the offseason.

For now, however, I have to agree with Nick M in that the Habs are doing themselves a disservice by winning now. All that counts, at this point, is getting as high a draft pick as possible.

That being said, while management surely wants a high pick, the players on the ice couldn't care less. They still have pride and, many of them are clearly playing to win, draft be damned!

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