Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 21-20-6   Canadiens 20-20-7

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

GREAT BAGELS THERE: Habs Eyes On The Prize

Hey did you hear the Hawks took a train from Ottawa to Montreal? Crazy, right? I mean, who does that? A train from city center to city center without dealing with an airport that neither town has near downtown? Other than like, every East Coast team between DC and Boston? Who ever heard of such a thing? Geniuses, these Hawks.

Anyway, now that everyone apparently has survived this galaxy-brained tactic of taking, y’know, a train between two cities, the Hawks will use that advantage to take on their mirror image in a lot of ways in the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are also an O6 franchise that can’t seem to get its dick out of a knot, are staring down their third-straight playoff-less season, and don’t seem to have any particular direction. Fuck, they even employ former Hawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin, who has done pretty much nothing since getting there 48 years ago or so it feels. But hey, he speaks French and everyone says he was a funny guy back in the day, so here he still is, serving up tepid stew as a hockey team once again.

The difference is that the Canadiens actually do things well with no stars to make it count, where the Hawks don’t really do anything well amongst their skaters but their stars barely keep them relevant. Metrically, the Canadiens are one of the best teams around, as Claude Julien teams tend to be. If you go by Corsi-percentage, or expected goals percentage, or just attempts per game for and against, or expected goals for and against per game, you’ll find the Habs top-10 in all of them. They keep the puck and they create the better chances more often.

What they can’t do is finish them. Les Habitants are bottom-1o in SH% at even-strength. Combine that with the fact they’re only getting middling goaltending from Carey Price this year, and they just can’t seem to turn these numbers into wins. Even a rise in SH% from their current 7.4% to just 8.0% would see eight more goals for them at evens, which can be six or more points in the standings. That would have them right on the wildcard hunt and breathing down the necks of Buds All Day for the last automatic spot in the Atlantic. You can’t miss the bear, people.

The Habs are also pretty damn fast, even without Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher as they’re currently injured. This is a team that can feature Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on its third line at times. It just doesn’t have what you’d call front-line scoring. That’s why Ilya Kovalchuk is now here, hilariously. Tomas Tatar is on the top line. Phillip Danault is awesome and has a serious case for the Selke this year, but he’s also not a top line center as the Canadiens have to use him. The hope would be that Nick Suzuki becomes that one day, but that’s a hell of a stretch.

You used to think of Montreal as having a plodding defense behind these gnat forwards, but that’s not as much the case anymore. Ben Chiarot is at least an upgrade on Karl Alzner, and Cale Fleury and Victor Mete (which you have to pronounce as Jonah Jameson even if you have to mispronounce “MEH-te” as “MEAT”) on the third pairing certainly upgrade the mobility scales. Weber and Chariot have been great together, and Jeff Petry always makes it work despite being 198 years old (somehow he’s only listed as 32 but I’m sure that’s a lie).

Price is only sporting a .908 this year, but the Habs have yet to locate a suitable backup for him so he’s playing too much and not all that well. If they were getting Price of four years ago, they’re almost certainly a playoff team. But they’re not, which leaves them seven points adrift and having four teams to leap to get there. Sound familiar? It’s like looking in a mirror…only…not.

For the Hawks, the only change we should see is Corey Crawford starting in his hometown again, where he’s generally been brilliant. Crow carries a lifetime .954 against Montreal anywhere, and his last five appearances in the Bell Centre have seen him give up four goals total. Clearly he likes it there.

The Hawks will be up against it on the back end of a back-to-back here, given how fast the Canadiens can play. A good time to remind everyone that though they won their last trip there in March, they also gave up 48 shots to do it and Crow got them all. Best not to repeat that. A track meet wouldn’t suit the Hawks here, though they could end up finishing more chances than the Habs do even if they give up more. Play this one a little more simple.

It’s a busy end to the pre-bye schedule, as the Hawks will close with three-in-four after this, making a total of five games in eight days in four cities. And they need most of the points on offer if not all of them. This is what happens when you back yourself into corners like this. Allez.

 

Hockey

When Carey Price signed his bonanza extension in 2017, it seemed as sure of a bet as anyone can make on a goalie. Price was clearly the best around, was only 28, coming off his fourth-straight .920+ SV% season and fifth out of seven (though one of those was only 12 games long thanks to an injury). Throw in the gold medal he simply waltzed to with Team Canada, as well as a Vezina and Hart Trophy and you have as close to a lock in the crease as you would have thought.

About that…

Price would back up that contract the next season with a .923 and another Vezina finalist appearance. It’s that since then, he’s been mired in the swamp of “meh” and sort of taking the Canadiens with him. A .900 in ’17-’18, a better .918 last year that still isn’t up to the standard he set, and a .908 this year. The last two aren’t bad numbers exactly, but they don’t prop up the lack of top-tier finishing the Habs currently sport, nor do they live up to the $10.5M hit that Price has on their cap from here until Heat Death Of All. When you’re taking home that bag with the “$” on it and your team is looking at three straight years out of the playoffs, especially in Montreal where everyone is a loon, you know where the focus falls.

Price is only 32, and that seems an early cut-off from when goalies can and should remain among the elite. Currently, 33-year-old Ben Bishop is your odds-on for another Vezina and 32-year-old Tuukka Rask is right behind him. The difference is that neither have been asked to shoulder the amount of starts in recent years that Price has, as both have had more than capable backups. And that’s multiple stops for Bishop.

Same goes for other goalies currently in the top-1o right now. Either they’re younger or are getting many more nights off, like Kuemper or Binnington or Hellebuyck or Lehner. Indeed, most of the league is moving to having something closer to 1 and 1As, or steering away from giving a starter anything more than 55 starts. And when you can’t do that, you’ve seen the problems the Habs, or the Knights, or the Canucks, or a few others are having.

But of course, that raises the question on whether or not you should be paying a goalie anywhere near Price’s $10 mildo if he needs to be paired with another to take at least 25 starts.

How much does Price’s salary hurt? Hard to say. The Habs aren’t capped out but had to bury Karl Alzner in Laval to get some space. They have some $16M in space next year though Domi will get a raise and the Habs clearly need more. It’s the following year when things really open up for them, as right now only Price, Weber, Byron, Chiarot, Drouin, and Cale Fleury are signed for that season. The Canadiens could be totally reconstructed if they so choose.

What they do with Price is another question. Moving him isn’t an option, and they’ll most likely always have to accommodate a goalie in the $3M-$4M range to pair with him. But that’s nearly $15M a year you’d be allotting to your crease, which seems a hinderance. Or they will just have to keep drafting and hitting on ones to back up before having to pay them. Only the Capitals can do that, silly.

It’s also worth noting that Henrik Lundqvist, Price’s contemporary, hasn’t hit a .920 season since turning 33. Fleury’s revival season in Vegas also came at 33, but he’s been nothing more than ok since. Bobrovsky is already falling off in his 30s. It could be that it’s just a younger man’s position now.  Corey Crawford has had basically a year and a half off out of the past two and still hasn’t found it at 35. Which makes it even weirder that most goalies don’t even get a look until their mid-2os, giving them a running back-like window.

Perhaps the Hawks should consider this if they get too out there on re-signing what will be a 29-year-old Robin Lehner this summer for many years.

Hockey

Did you know the Habs finished two points out of a playoff spot last year? I sure didn’t. Considering all the noise they make and all the complaining they do that you have to pay attention to them because of HISTORY and CULTURE (that being that they speak the French language like they’ve had an aluminum bat taken to their cranium, I guess), that’s probably the quietest Canadiens season in history. They certainly are more loud when they just plain suck because of what a travesty of justice that is. But when they simply fade into the background…well, that’s rare. We should cherish it. And it could happen again.

2018-2019

44-30-8 96 points (4th in Atlantic)

3.00 GF/G (14th)  2.88 GA/G (13th)  +10 GD

54.4 CF% (3rd)  54.6 xGF% (3rd)

13.2 PP% (30th)  80.9 PK% (13th)

Goalies: As it has been, as it will be, Carey Price takes the torture chamber that is the Montreal crease. It all begins and ends with him, which means any talking point about the Habs in La Belle Province has a 75% chance of being about him. At this point he must be used to it or totally deaf. Price was healthy last year, which was something of an upset, and he was…fine? A .918 in last year’s heightened scoring environment is better than it originally looks, but not up to the standard Price himself has set. It was also the second consecutive season he wasn’t up above .920, which is what the Habs are paying for with the $10M a year Price gets from here until AOC is on her second term in the White House.

At 32, there’s little to no reason to think Price is past it, other than maybe the higher-than-usual odometer reading thanks to his debut at a precocious age. The days of him putting up .930+ SV%s are over, but the Canadiens shouldn’t need that either. Price should be around .920 minimum, and another sustained season of health could see him creep up to .925 or higher which gets him back in the Vezina discussion, a place he used to call home. There are few goalies you’d take ahead of him if you needed to have a game to save your dog, that’s for sure, despite Pat Foley’s and drunken Hawks fan declarations that Corey Crawford is better.

Backing him up will be Keith Kinkaid, which as a backup is about as solid as you can get. He bailed out Corey Schneider in New Jersey for a couple years when Schneider’s body was turning into decommissioned flubber, though he himself was on one last year at .891. The two years before that were .913 and .916 though, and he definitely gives you representative-plus goaltending from the #2 spot. This is just about a question mark-less position for the Habs. Which they need, because everywhere else has more than a few.

Defense: As we tour the skaters of Montreal, you’ll notice they don’t have a frontline player in either spot. There’s no genuine top-pairing defensemen here, and really no genuine top line forward either. They are going to try and do it with faded stars, foot soldiers, or didn’t-quite-get-theres. I’m contractually obligated to tell you they think Shea Weber is still a top man, but injuries and time have eroded whatever mobility he had. Stand him up and give him time and he still has a doomsday gun of a shot, but that didn’t help their anemic power play much last year in the rare times he was actually upright.

They signed Ben Chiarot from Winnipeg, except no one has ever pointed out whatever it was Chiarot did with the Jets that’s supposed to make me shorts get tight. Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak are serviceable puck-movers down the lineup, and Jordie Benn has a beard. Victor Mete had a rough go in his first full go-around in the league but is the real promise on the squad here, if Claude Julien doesn’t have him racked in Victoria Square.

There’s just not that much special here, which makes their glittering metrics all the more shocking. The forwards once again will have to do most of the work in transition, which affects how much they can finish, as you’ll see…

Forwards: Again, no frontline talent. The Canadiens would love to argue that Max Domi is, but that would be the definition of pissing in my ear. He’s fine, he’s a good rhythm guitarist but not a lead. Jonathan Drouin has had every chance in the world now to prove all the hype he got and bed-wetting he did were worth it, and he hasn’t yet. Brendan Gallagher is a highly effective forechecker/net front pest/garbage-goal getter, but that’s it. Domi led this team with 72 points. Tomas Tatar was the second-leading scorer. When Tomas Tatar is among your leading scorers, that makes you the Red Wings of four or five years ago. And where did that get them? Face in the dirt, that’s what.

And the Habs haven’t really done anything to improve it this year. Ryan Poehling looks sure to be on the team, and Nick Suzuki just might, but to expect them to carry the flag…er, torch…sorry, hate to insult your tiring hands you pompous fuckwits, is beyond ambitious. We love Phillip Danault around here, but he’s a checking center who should chip in scoring. Not the engine of your second line. That’s what he has to be on this team.

The hope would be that Jesperi Kotkaniemi has an offensive leap in him at 20 to go along with his already stellar 200-foot game. And maybe he does, but again, that’s pinning hopes on a 20-year-old.

Still, as mentioned above, the Habs were able to carry some very impressive underlying numbers last year. They did that because even if the forwards aren’t blessed with dash and finish, they are with speed. All four lines here can really go, so they can pressure everywhere on the ice, help out their d-men deep in their zone and still get up to the offensive end. That leaves them pretty tired, and it doesn’t do a lot when you’re creating attempts and chances that you don’t have a lot of finish to make count. But if they can match those metrics again and get a slice of luck, maybe they could find the extra points they need to make the playoffs.

Prediction: They’re in the wrong division. It’s hard to see where they’re going to make up ground on any of Toronto, Boston, or Tampa, which leaves them scrapping for a wildcard. Luckily, there isn’t much impressive in the other division, and Columbus’s spot is certainly going to be marked available. Any bump up from Price, or an unforeseen SH% spike from a forward or two and the Habs could get there. Or their aging defense can’t be held up by Price, and the forwards can’t do most of the work again and they’ll miss by a lot.

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Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 31-30-9   Canadiens 37-27-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: WGN

WELL WE’RE NOT GONNA, WE’RE GONNA HAVE A SANDWICH: Habs Eyes On The Prize

Two teams scrapping desperately for playoff spots will meet up on Hockey Night In Canada in Montreal tonight. Which sounds weird given there’s a 10-point difference between the two. But that’s the tale of East and West this year. We don’t make the rules.

Though they’re hardly the best team in the East you can find, there are not too many teams the Hawks should want to see less after their attempted 3rd period sepuku against the Leafs on Wednesday. That’s because the Habs are one of the faster teams around, with four lines of nippy forwards whose only aim is to get up the ice as quickly and efficiently as possible. They’re one of the best possession teams in the league, and are probably a premier sniper away from being much higher in the standings. Seeing as how the Hawks are slow and don’t possess the puck, it’s not really the best matchup at all. You saw what happened when a fast team really gets going against the Hawks last out. They’re still picking up parts of the Hawks off the Toronto ice and trying to identify it through dental records.

But still the Habs are clinging on in the East and the Atlantic. If the music were to stop today, Les Habitants would not have a chair and would have to sit over there with a juice box. They’re two points behind both the Jackets and Hurricanes for the wildcard spots, and the Canes have a game in hand as well. It would be a second-straight season of no playoffs and third in four, which for an organization that thinks of itself as the center of the hockey world, if not universe entirely, would be unacceptable. So how did we get here?

Hard to figure. The big, glaring, pulsing rash is that the Canadiens have a power play that looks like what the Hawks’ used to looked like. It’s dead last in the league, connecting at a 12% rate. Pretty much everywhere else the Habs are at least middle of the pack, if not better, but because they can’t get easier goals they’re having to win every game at even-strength. And that’s hard to do when you’re merely functional everywhere else and not buoyant. It basically leaves you with the good record Montreal has, but in the East that’s only enough to hope to squeeze in.

Up and down the lineup you’ll see players slotted just a touch higher than they should be. Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi have been the most dynamic, but they’re both probably second-line players on a really good team. Only one of them is here. Phillip Danault causes cartoon hearts to float out of our chest, but he’s a #3 and not a #2. Tomas Tatar shouldn’t be on a top-six of a team that means to do anything meaningful, as Red Wings fans can attest. It’s a team that is just short pretty much everywhere.

And Carey Price is also functional-to-good, though not at the moment the galactic being he used to be. A .915 SV% is nothing to sneeze at these days, but doesn’t put him amongst the league leaders, which used to be his hood. He’s also had to play more than the Canadiens would have liked, because–and stop me if you’ve heard this before–Antti Niemi as the backup has been a gas leak. He’s had one start in the past month, and you’d have to imagine they’re going to have to ride Price now to 65+ starts which can’t ever have been the plan.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be a headache on a given night, especially for a leaden-footed defense like the Hawks. The Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge have gotten on the popular train and now let their forwards streak up the ice, trying to get up into and around the opposing defense before the forwards can help out. The Hawks really struggle with this, so they’ll have to be as clean as possible tonight. That means no turnovers at either line, and busting it back. If the Hawks can keep the puck for any period of time, the Habs defense isn’t anything that would cause a sonnet to be written, and Price isn’t the set of iron bars he used to be. But open up a sliver to this team and they can turn it into a wound pretty quickly. And then Max Domi is smiling or Andrew Shaw is screaming or Brendan Gallagher is yapping and you’ll want to throw your shoe through the TV.

For the Hawks, wouldn’t expect any changes. Crawford is healthy and continent, so that’s three periods he gets to play. He usually plays pretty damn well back home in Montreal, and the Hawks will likely need it.

The Hawks already got a bonus two points out of this Canadian swing. But that doesn’t matter if you don’t get at least one, and really both, of the points out of here that you would have been aiming for before it began. There’s a long way to go, but it is possible as the Canucks and Flyers at home are next and then a home-and-home with a direct competitor in Colorado. It’s all in front of the Hawks for the next week. It’ll take almost all of the points there, if not all, but that’s the path they’ve chosen. If they’re serious about this, they’ll need every last drop before that last week gauntlet of Winnipeg, St. Louis, Dallas, and Nashville. These are two they probably need to get.

 

Game #71 Preview Suite

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We went big-timing for this one. A Saturday night in Montreal calls for that. Andrew Berkshire is the analytics dude for Sportsnet north of The Wall. Follow him @AndrewBerkshire.

Metrically, the Canadiens are one of the better teams around. Claude Julien has transitioned them to a pretty quick team that plays that way. Their PDO is fine, they get decent goaltending. So why is this team barely scratching away for a playoff spot?
There’s a few things that the public data misses about the Canadiens, the first thing is that they’re one of the league’s worst pass defence teams. Opponents don’t have much trouble zipping the puck through lanes in the Habs’ end, and even if the Canadiens aren’t giving up a ton of chances, the ones they do give up are of high quality.
The other factor is that while their metrics look great at 5-vs-5, they’re godawful on special teams. Price had phenomenal penalty killing numbers for most of the season, even while he was struggling, and that hid their ineptitude there. Most of the focus is on the powerplay, but the penalty kill has been nearly as bad. Those are the issues currently holding them back.
At the time of the trade, we thought the Have got the worst of the Domi-for-Galchenyuk trade. Um…whoops?
I think at the time of the trade that was a relatively logical assumption, Galchenyuk was being traded at his lowest value, and Domi had always seemed a little lost offensively in Arizona after his rookie season. There’s something in the water in Arizona that just prevents goal scoring. Galchenyuk is having a pretty awful offensive season, and the only Coyotes forward with more points is Clayton Keller, and he leads the team in goals with 15. How is Arizona in a playoff position? (watch a Western Conference game sometime -ED)
Domi was taken from what looks like a situation that is the death of offence, and was dropped into a system that appears to be tailor made for his playing style. Lots of attacking off the rush with speed, and he has free reign to skate the puck through the neutral zone. I think it might be the perfect situation for an underrated player. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also playing secondary minutes now too. The Gallagher line is the primary one, and Domi can focus on secondary matchups.
We’ve tried making the case that Jesperi Kotkaniemi should be a Selke candidate. Even if he’s not now, how many will he win before he’s through? 12? 15? 27 as they give him bonus ones?
I loved this article by Olivier Bouchard on Kotkaniemi’s defensive play. He certainly looks like a budding star defensive forward, but between the tail end of Patrice Bergeron‘s career and the rise of Aleksander Barkov, we might be waiting a long while for him to win one.
Has Victor Mete finally broken through with Julien?
I think Julien’s usage of Mete has been pretty strong since he broke into the league, he didn’t want to overload him and probably still doesn’t. As much as Mete has improved, I think the reason he’s used a bunch right now has more to do with the cavernous hole Montreal has on the left side defence than anything.
Seriously, how do you give up eight to the Ducks?
A great question! I’m not sure if the emotional rollercoaster the Habs were riding the first 50 games of the season has broken down or if that 3-0 blown lead against the Maple Leafs broke their confidence, but they’re playing pretty awful lately. Somehow, awful enough to give up eight to the Ducks.

 

Game #71 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

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You can catch him a lot of places, so we recommend you just follow Andrew Berkshire @AndrewBerkshire and at his tumblr andrewberkshire.tumblr.com.

The Canadiens started out hot, but have cooled off of late. What fueled the former and what’s the cause of the latter?
Hot starts from everyone new really helped the Habs this year. Tomas Tatar has been amazing through two months of the season, and so has Max Domi to an even greater degree, at least offensively. Couple that with Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher starting off the season the same way they played last year and it’s a good recipe for success. Claude Julien was able to run four scoring lines of various quality early in the year before injuries began to hit, and the Canadiens have started to come back down to earth where their true talent level is of late.
Max Domi has 30 points in 28 games. Is it more than just the 19% shooting-percentage for the little turd?
The high shooting percentage is absolutely a huge part of it, but it seems like the Canadiens’ system is tailor made to make Domi look good this year. When the Canadiens play with speed and attack the offensive zone with control, Domi looks like an elite player, but when the Canadiens have trouble attacking off the rush, he’s much more neutralized.
Is this finally the Jonathan Drouin “awakening?”
For the first month of the season, Drouin was riding Domi’s coattails quite a lot, I thought he looked pretty lost and was constantly making junior hockey moves and getting caught. The last month he’s been playing what Pierre LeBrun would call ‘Big Boy hockey.” Whether it’s a permanent awakening for him is up for debate, but the effort level is there.
How do the Habs plan to turn over what is still a pretty hilarious blue line? Kids we should know about?
On the right side the blue line isn’t too bad, with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry leading the way and Noah Juulsen being the young kid that’s not known enough around the league for how good he is. The left side is an absolute mess, even more so now with Victor Mete losing the coach’s confidence and being sent to the AHL. Eventually Mete will establish himself as the team’s top left handed defenseman. Until then, there’s no one in the organization that’s immediately available to solve this.
How long did it take before you could spell “Kotkaniemi” without looking?
Surprisingly, it wasn’t that long. Niemi helped with the latter half, and then it was just Kotka, which is pretty simple to remember. It’s nowhere near as tough as Vasilevskiy, for example.

 

Game #31 Preview Suite

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I wonder if it bothers the NHL that there’s a very good chance that four of the ORIGINAL SIX HARF HARF might seriously be regurgitated foodstuffs this season. The Bruins and Leafs will be good, and then probably play in the first round. If I squint really hard to the point that I prolapse my own asshole (leading to the question, “How would you prolapse someone else’s asshole, dear Samuel?” And I don’t want that answer), maybe the Hawks could find a playoff spot that someone else tossed onto the sidewalk in a fit of pique and shortsightedness. But after going through the Wings on Thursday, I can assure you that the Montreal Canadiens will blow chunks. Their organization and press will still bleat on about how they’re the gold standard, they’ll interview some barely coherent Francophone who was on the third line in 1974 or something, and in French he’ll say the problem is that Max Pacioretty isn’t tough enough. Because the great Habs teams were certainly built on bludgeoning people or something. Why didn’t you let them leave again, Canada? Oh right, access to the smoked meat and strippers. Fair play.  Whatever the question is about the Canadiens, the answer up there always seems to be, “Kirk Muller.”

Goalies: Drinky McGoo, otherwise known as Carey Price after he got boring, is once again your starter. Except now he’s ouchy and bad. At least he could be. Price hasn’t managed a full season in three, and last year in 49 games he was objectively awful. Now that could be an aberration, as he just turned 31 and that’s not the time when goalies are supposed to go skunky. Yet considering the workload he’s been carrying since he was 21, as well as carrying the daily mood of an entire province that time, maybe his time has come. We know when he’s on he’s the best in the world. And the Habs need the best in the world if they have any hope of playing a game that means anything past the turn of the year.

If he’s not, the insurance plan is Antti Niemi. Which is basically like having whatever animal in The Flinstones was used to patch things up instead of car insurance. Niemi was good in 17 starts for the Habs last year, with a .929 SV%, in what had to be either the lord’s or the devil’s practical joke on Canadiens fans for their own entertainment. I hope it’s the devil’s, because every fan up there deserves to hear various callers begging for Niemi in November only to see him literally chuck the puck into his own net while falling down like some Cluseau-esque waiter. This is going to happen.

Defense: You know it’s bad when an injury to the already old and fading Shea Weber absolutely cripples your blue line. Welcome to the Habs’ world. They’re going to rock Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry on the top pairing until January. It might not matter how good Price is, because with this blue line he’s going to take off his mask, fold up his jersey, undo his pads, lay them gently down in the crease like The Undertaker and skate off to never come back to hockey again. Victor Mete once had promise, and then Claude Julien beat any sense of self-worth out of him and now he thinks he’s a marmot. How does Jordie Benn still have a job? All he can do is scowl while looking at the forward’s ass no less than four feet in front of him. They better hope Noah Juulsen is the second coming of Larry Robinson… so they can then trade him for whatever other French-Canadian forward who’s good for 38 points they can find in three years. Hey did you know they had Sergachev?

Forwards: It’s basically Max Pacioretty checking his watch every five minutes running out the clock and then a bunch of riff raff. They punted the abused Alex Galchenyuk, the American with the Russian name who was a Canadien, and his fancy collection of mirrors and $1 bills to Arizona for MAGA pudwhack Max Domi and the points he’ll never score. Jonathan Drouin is the top line center simply because you don’t pronounce the last letter of his last name, even though last year pretty much showed he can’t play center. But hey, you can’t have two overhyped left wings, and that’s Domi’s job now! Philip Danault gets to do all of Domi’s skating, though now that he’s actually getting paid it’ll be a couple hours before all the fans hate him even though you don’t have to pronounce the last letter of his last name either. Tomas Plekanec ended up back here because of course he did. The Quebecois will do anything for a turtleneck. Except shower. There is one genuine top-line player on this team and they’re going to trade him at the deadline to the Bruins for whatever Don Sweeney digs out of his ear. Or the Penguins where he’ll score 38 goals in 15 games. Oh sure, there’s Brendan Gallagher‘s Marchand-Lite act, if that does anything for you. It doesn’t, I’ll answer for you.

Outlook: Here’s another team that needs a total overhaul everywhere. The GM was proven a withering dolt at least three years ago, and at this point Claude Julien is outdated. They don’t have a d-man you’d want anything to do with outside of quarantine other than maybe Juulsen and who even knows with him? They even have Xavier Ouellet along for the ride. Remember when he was going to save the Wings? This team probably isn’t as bad as Detroit or Ottawa, as a healthy and focused Price keeps them from that alone. But they’re nowhere near the other four teams in this division, which means they’re exactly where you don’t want to be, hockey purgatory. Maybe they think the league will rig it again so they can have whatever player they want from the QMJHL again, because what you need to succeed in the NHL these days is a kid or two who have played nothing but 8-6 games for three seasons while Pierre McGuire licks the glass behind you.

Fuck this team and organization. Their legacy is utter bullshit. It’s far too wonderful of a place to have a plague like this as its only professional team. Move the Rays there tout suite.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Everything Else

He won’t play tonight, which will deprive both Roberto Luongo and the United Center faithful another night together. Which we both know they love so much. And it could have possibly been Bob’s last appearance in Chicago. Yes, he’s signed for four more seasons after this one. Yes, before going down with a serious injury Luongo was once again excellent, and doesn’t appear to be in need of the big blue curtain. But still, Luongo will turn 39 in April, and you can’t help but ask just how much longer he wants to play. Especially if the Panthers continue to be in the “making up the numbers” category.

And it’ll still sound strange to some, but Luongo will go down as one of the greatest goalies of all-time. And it’s the longevity of his career that’s truly astounding.

Because of how the position has changed as time has gone one, it’s nearly impossible to judge goalies across eras. Luongo is has the 9th best career save-percentage of all-time, but everyone around him is a contemporary. Except for the career leader, which is Dominik Hasek. And Hasek is really the only one who played to Luongo’s age and beyond and maintained an above-average SV%. Hasek had a .925 in 43 games for Ottawa the first year out of the lockout before getting hurt in the Olympics at the age of 41. At 37 Hasek had a .915 for the ’02 champion Red Wings, still above the league average of .908.

And that’s about all there is compare Luongo to. The other one is Henrik Lundqvist. Career-wise, you can’t split them. Luongo’s career SV% is .9192. Hank’s is .9196. Luongo is three years older, but has maintained a higher level the past three years. The worry in New York is that Hank is already on the donkey end of his battle with Father Time, and he’s only 35. Hank hasn’t had the same workload as Luongo either.

You run out of comparisons after that. The only other one you can think of is Martin Brodeur. Brodeur fell off the truck and had it back over his head at the age of 38. His SV% went from .916 to .903 and never got above .908 again, four points below the league average then. You can debate Martin Brodeur all day, but his SV%s never got above .920, something Bobby Lu has done eight times. In reality, there’s just no way to argue that Brodeur was better than Luongo. Roberto just never got to play behind a Lamoriello-inspired Devils defense. Or really, Scott Niedermayer.

Sure, Tim Thomas bested Luongo in 2011 when he was 36, but he never came close to that again and wasn’t even a starter in the league until 32. He just doesn’t have the longevity. Maybe a higher peak, but the mountain isn’t as big.

Luongo is clearly a first-ballot of Hall of Famer, and yet he’ll never live down that 2011 Final when he couldn’t stop a shot in Boston. But it wasn’t Luongo who froze on the first line in the spotlight, and he didn’t cause Ryan Kesler’s hips to fall off.

What will also argue against Luongo is that he hasn’t been on a team to win a playoff round since that 2011 Final. No position is judged harsher on playoff success/failure than a goalie, because goalies can win Cups, or at least a series or two, by themselves. Luongo has a .934 in the Panthers’ last appearance in the playoffs, but they still lost to the Islanders in six games. He never managed above a .915 in a playoff run before that.

And obviously, the meltdowns have been so spectacular. It wasn’t just that he lost. It was the seven goals in ’09 to the Hawks. It was the touchdown surrendered in every home game to the same Hawks in ’10. The capitulation in three games in Boston. No one’s going to forget that.

It sucks that the Panthers appear to be a basketcase organization and won’t get Luongo one more chance to at least set a record straight. He’s not going to get that Cup, but goalies who perform like this around the age of 40 just don’t come around much. And maybe Luongo’s injury shows you why.

Game #31 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Most of my thoughts on the Montreal Canadiens are contained here. But I won’t miss a chance to shit on them twice. Or hundreds. Whatever it takes. While they might not be poorly coached anymore (though I’m less convinced of Claude Julien’s genius than others), they’re still poorly run, poorly watched, and the kvetching that goes on about them takes up far too much space in our lives. And I don’t think this season is going to be any more pleasant for anyone, although you have to feel sorry for them because this summer they didn’t have an obscenely talented and charismatic player who just happened to be a minority to toss overboard. How could they possibly function?

MONTREAL CANADIENS

’16-’17 Record: 47-26-9  103 points   1st in Flortheast (bounced in 1st round by the Rangers)

Team Stats: 52.4 CF% (3rd)  51.6 SF% (5th)  52.4 SCF% (5th)  7.5 SH% (18th) SV% .932 (4th)  19.7 PP% (13th)  81.1 PK% (14th)

Everything Else

This isn’t some post to blast the Montreal Canadiens for telling Andrei Markov to shove off back to Russia today. Markov is yet another player who was massively overrated simply because he played in Montreal. Andrei Markov is fine. If he was on your second pairing, you could probably get away with it. The only reason the Habs got away with him on their top pairing for so long is because Carey Price was behind him, and for a lot of years PK Subban next to him.

No, it’s not that. What it is is to poke holes in what the Canadiens are and what they think they are. The Canadiens would like you to believe they are the NHL’s Steelers, or Cowboys, or Packers, or Celtics, or Lakers, or Yankees. This is in fact, utter horseshit.