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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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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Canadiens 14-10-5    Hawks 9-16-5

PUCK DROP: 5pm

TV: NBCSN for the locals, NHL Network for those who aren’t

CATCHING TORCHES FOR SOME REASON: Habs Eyes On The Prize

Yadda yadda yadda Original Six matchup blah blah blah. We’re contractually obligated to mention that every time the Quebecois wash up on Madison St. Whatever allure that sort of thing has, and it still has something if only a little, is probably mostly washed away by the utter incompetence of the Hawks these days. And it might sting a little more with the Canadiens, who used to be as hapless and directionless, might have turned things around a bit.

We’ll start with the main headline for the Hawks, which is the return of Connor Murphy from his back-iotomy, which is what doc said he needed. You know things are pretty dire when you greatly anticipate the return of Murphy, who simply be maintaining the form of “fine” last year was pretty much the best Hawks defenseman. He’s better than pretty much everyone aside from Jokiharju and maybe Duncan Keith though, and his return will be welcomed.

He does seem to smooth out some things. He gives Gustafsson a partner who can cover for his constant meanderings and delusions, and they dovetailed nicely at the end of last year. It keeps Keith with Jokiharju, which I’m not a huge fan of but don’t really see a way around. Maybe at some point Murphy pairs with The Har Ju, but that leaves Keith with only problematic partnerships. For now, let’s just enjoy the two second-pairings the Hawks might actually have tonight.

Also it keeps Manning and Seabrook on strict third-pairing duty, where they can still do some damage (evidenced clearly by Thursday night in Sin City), but this is what they’re barely cut out for these days. I don’t like it any more than you.

Though what Murphy is now being 6-5 and having back surgery in a job that requires a fair amount of bending over is a thought not for the weak of heart or stomach. Let’s run that kitten over when we get to it.

For the rest of the lineup, it appears Head Coach Arthur Fortune is going with the “pairs” system, where Toews and Saad, Anisimov and Kane, and Strome and Top Cat will be continually lashed together an they’ll make up the other wing as they go along. I guess this is what happens when you’re short on wingers.

Pivoting to Les Habitants. Montreal started the year on fire, with Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron, and some others shooting the lights out at a pace that was never going to be sustainable. That’s started to cool, and the Habs with it, however the underlying structure beneath that looks solid.

While Marc Bergevin may be unable to tie his shoes or spell “cat,” he has constructed a forward unit that is basically four lines of nimble, skilled forwards. They have rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi and fellow Finn Arturi Lehkonen on the third line, which is pretty neat. Drouin and Domi anchor the top unit (even if Drouin is never going to be a center), and Brendan Gallagher, Tatar, and Phillip Danault make for quite the second unit.

Even old horse Claude Julien has changed his…well, horses don’t have stripes but just go with me here, as the Habs are playing faster and freer than previous iterations. They have a bunch of gnats up top, so why not let them roam wild? Also, the defense is still spotty, so asking them to do less is the way to go. Jeff Petry has thrived under this system, and the returning Shea Weber will benefit from being asked merely to get the puck up quickly instead of picking out precise passes or moving all that much.

However, the foundation is creaky, because Carey Price has been REEL BAD. November was a real disaster for him, with a .888 SV% over the month. He’s only rebounded a touch in December, with four starts amassing a .912. The Habs have some of the strongest metrics as a team in the league, thanks to their speed and Julien’s tweaks, but if Price can’t get even to league average than there’s only so far you can go. The Habs currently have a two-point gap for the last playoff spot, and three on any team that’s going to matter. They’ll need Price to come in from the woods to hold onto it.

So here’s the thing. Vegas is filled with quick forwards who play fast. The Hawks usually get their lunch handed to them by that outfit. So do they by other teams who boast that. They looked better on Thursday but were undone by Seabrook and Crawford letting them down, simply. They’ll need another effort on that level to break their duck against a Habs team still feeling itself a bit. Don’t hold your breath.

 

 

Game #31 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

You can catch Andrew’s work just about everywhere, but mostly at Sportsnet.ca and RDS.ca. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewBerkshire.

Ok, explain why the Habs think they need every asshat they can find and why it will or won’t work when things matter?

Bergevin has it in his mind that the number one reason why the Habs collapsed last season was that they were “easy to play against”. That was probably because they let in a goal every 5 shots scored on one of every 20 for like 3 months, then everyone got injured, but the team took it to mean GRIT and other crap. This same thing happened after the 2013 playoffs when the Habs throttled the Senators by every metric but Anderson stood on his head and Price was playing with a torn groin, so they lost in 5 and Bergevin brought in Douglas Murray and George Parros in the offseason. He’s a conservative GM for the most part, but he’s also extremely reactionary and seemingly mediocre at diagnosing weaknesses. 

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 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN, NHLN (US), SportsNet (Canada), WGN-AM 720
Who’s Your Favorite New Kid? Call Me Joey: Days of Y’Orr

From one state with legal weed to another, tonight the Hawks find themselves in Boston to take on a B’s team that is once again teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs for a third straight year, and rumors of Claude Julien’s giant bald head being on the chopping block dominate any discussion about the Bruins.

Everything Else

Days of Y’Orr was one of the best hockey blogs around. Then it went away. And then apparently it came back when I wasn’t paying attention. Mostly because Marshall and I are usually arguing about wrestling. Anyway, it’s back, you should read it, and follow Marshall and them on Twitter (@DOYMarshall @DaysOfYorr)

Once again, the Bruins underlying numbers are among the best in the league, and yet they’re jostling for a playoff spot in a pretty piss poor division. Is it all just poor shooting luck? Is there something more at work?

Their shooting percentage has finally started to turn a corner, but things have been pretty mind-boggling so far. To dominate possession the way they do, yet be so woefully inept at burying the puck really puts into question the adage of “good things happen when you put the puck on net.” Opposing teams are having far too easy a time forcing the Bruins to the outside, leading to some pretty poor shot selection. The top line is capable of creating offense from anywhere in the zone, but the others lack the necessary skill set.