Seasons Greetings, Habs Addicts! I hope everyone had wonderful holidays as we gear up for the New Year.
Currently the Habs have a 23-14-3 record, good for 4th in the Eastern conference. Not too shabby at all. Scoring has been down this year, as the offense has been held to 3 goals or less in 28 of 40 games played this year and has only potted 5+ goals in a game twice this season, naturally both wins. Carey Price and Peter Budaj have been stellar in goal and the overall defensive effort has been solid, but if we had the average goaltending we did last year, it’s easy to argue that our record could be 14-23-3.
|Photo Credit: Allhabs.net|
Going into 2014, the future is still looking bright. Our prospects have performed well thus far at the World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC). On Team Canada, Zach Fucale got his first start between the pipes on Monday (December 30) against the Slovakian team and won, earning a New Years Eve start against Team USA. Charles Hudon has played himself onto the top line with Jonathan Drouin and Anthony Mantha. Elsewhere, Sebastian Collberg has played well for Team Sweden and Jacob de la Rose has meshed well with Filip Forsberg and has 3 points through 2 games. Finland’s Artturi Lehkonen has played a dominant physical game on the top line, while Martin Reway has starred for the Slovakian squad, with 3 goals and 6 points through the first 2 games of the tournament.
In Hamilton, the squad has been a mixed-bag of results this year, playing average hockey with a 15-14-4 record. Martin St. Pierre leads the team with 25 points in 30 games, but the career AHLer is not considered a prospect. Louis Leblanc continues to sputter with 9 goals/18 points in 30 games. Blueliner Magnus Nygren left the squad to go back to Sweden earlier this season. With no real opportunity to make the Habs this season, he opted to return to the Swedish Elite league where he could make more money than his $70,000 AHL salary. Dustin Tokarski has received the bulk of the starts, with 22 appearances and has provided solid goaltending with an 11-7-2 record, with a 2.30 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. While the organization has depth, not too many of these players are truly NHL ready. Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn continue to develop and can ably fill in for the Habs when Marc Bergevin decides its time to move on from the Douglas Murray experiment or retire Francis Bouillon to the press box.
There is still just over half a season left for the Canadiens. Back in November, I provided Habs Addict with a reflection of the first 20 games. If you haven't read it, or you want to refresh your memory, I have linked the article here: At The Quarter Mile: Analysis of the First 20 Games. Since that time, the Habs have played another 20 games and this quarter of the season has seen them post a 13-6-1 record (10-8-2 in the first 20). While the record has improved, there has been only a few changes to the overall positives and negatives that I listed back in November. Here's the latest update:
Positive: The Kids.
After starting off the season strong and creating the much hyped 'EGG Line'. As is the trend with Michel Therrien this year, the line has since been disbanded and both Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk have had a revolving group of linemates. While Galchenyuk has continued to find success on the scoresheet, Eller has had games where he has largely been invisible. Brendan Gallagher has found comfortable spot with the rejuvenated Max Pacioretty (team leading 15 goals) and David Desharnais (14 points in last 19 games; 1 point in first 21 games) and continues to bring a strong, gritty presence in each game, even though his stick has gone cold in the scoring department.
Negative: Veteran Performance.
Pacioretty and Desharnais have sparked each other and have since started to roll. Tomas Plekanec continues to be a steady contributor. However, Rene Bourque, Brian Gionta, Rafael Diaz and Francis Bouillon continue to disappoint while collecting rather handsome paycheques.
Positive: Subban Continues to Shine.
His shooting percentage is down by half this year (4.5% this year; 8.7% last season), as such his goal output is lower this season. His point total of 27 in 40 games leads the team and his average time on the ice of 25:09/game is second only to Andrei Markov (25:32/game). He will be in the running for the Norris Trophy at the end of the season at this pace.
Negative: New Additions.
Daniel Briere has 10 points in 29 games. He's been a healthy scratch and is showing diminished skills and speed. Douglas Murray has no points and a team-worst -11 rating in 21 games. He is showing clearly diminished speed. George Parros has missed time with two separate concussions and has no-points and a -5 rating in 9 games. Needless to say, no positive impact has been made by any of them.
Positive: Elite Goaltending.
Carey Price and Peter Budaj have continued to excel under the tutelage of Stephane Waite. Price is playing his way into a starting role on the Canadian Olympic team and both goaltenders have consistently played at an elite level all season long. This has not changed since the first 20 games. Without this tandem playing at the level they have been, there is no way this club is in the playoffs.
Negative: Decision Making.
After all of last season and half of this season, there has still been no impact trade made by Marc Bergevin. Coach Michel Therrien cannot find consistent line pairings outside of Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher and as such, there has been a lack of secondary scoring on a consistent basis. How you can coach a team for a season and a half and still have no idea who can play well with each other is beyond me. The team plays well enough in its own end, but without the goalies playing at a high level, Therrien could easily be fighting for his job rather than a home ice playoff spot.
The New Year generally brings new hope and optimism for all. Out with the old and in with the new.
2014 could be a great year for the Canadiens and the fans. With half a season remaining, there is still plenty of hockey to be played and a full off-season for the roster to be improved by the front office through the draft and free agency.
Until next time, Habs Addicts, have a happy New Years!!
Nick M. 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.