Hockey

We know exactly what it feels like to be what the Habs were tonight…dominant in possession yet unable to capitalize on the power play and losing to a mediocre team. The difference is, the Hawks have excellent goaltending and Montreal most certainly did not. Although Crawford (great as he was) isn’t the only story tonight. Some fourth-line luck and decent special teams work did what they’re supposed to do, and were enough for a win. Let’s get to it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but Zack Smith was the difference-maker tonight, proving that there really is a first time for everything. But hey, good for him, right? Early in the first, he and Drake Caggiula took advantage of Charlie Lindgren being Charlie Lindgren when there was a bad turnover behind the Habs net on the PK, and it resulted in Smith scoring a short-handed goal. Then Smith potted another (even strength) goal barely three minutes later, and it was undoubtedly the best period of his life. It’s easy to laugh at the situation, or laugh at the Habs for letting this bum score twice on them, but honestly it was downright refreshing to have someone different step up and score. Especially with this being the second of a back-to-back, having the fourth line eat up some minutes and be productive while doing so was exactly what was needed.

–Related: when Drake Caggiula scores on you, you suck. Sorry, Lindgren, but it’s true.

–On the other hand, Dominik Kubalik suddenly couldn’t buy a goal, and not for lack of trying. He had three shots, all of which would have been easy goals, well, last night or any game in the last little stretch here. They were those point-blank shots that make you wonder how it couldn’t possibly have gone in because given the laws of physics, it would seem much more likely that the puck would go in rather than stay out. In fact the top line as a whole struggled to find the back of the net, and it was when Caligula moved off the top line that he did end up scoring. It’s really not a big deal (who gives a shit if they don’t score in one game?), but my concern is that Coach Cool Youth Pastor will use this as proof that Kubalik-Toews-Kane isn’t the right combo for the top line because they didn’t score in the .02 seconds they had on the ice together. But here goes dumb ‘ole Caggiula scoring so he’ll be back on the top line by Saturday.

Adam Boqvist had a couple nice plays, although the stats were rather ugly for the night. In the first period he saved a goal when Crawford got lost in space and couldn’t make it back to the far post in time, and it was a good keep by Boqvist at the blue line that set up Top Cat’s power play goal in the second. He flashed some speed but finished with a miserable 24 CF%, so cherry pick whatever you want from that information. Our other tender-age star, Kirby Dach, had a no-good very bad game. In the first, he broke his stick on an power play attempt, right in the slot and you could practically hear the sad trombone sound, and he followed it up by taking a penalty a few seconds later to negate the advantage for the Hawks. Even beyond that, he fumbled shots, and his line with DeBrincat and Kampf only managed a 38 CF% at evens. Like the top line, it was nothing to get upset about–both Boqvist and Dach are going to have games like this–but it’s becoming worrisome that Dach has struggled for a couple weeks because he needs confidence and decent coaching at this impressionable stage. Right now he seems to be sorely lacking both.

Corey Crawford was outstanding as usual in Montreal. Admittedly he looked a little shaky in the first, particularly when he fell on his ass behind the net, all by himself, but it obviously only injured his pride. Losing his net when Boqvist had to bail him out was also concerning, but when it mattered most he was lights-out. He finished with a .970 SV%, and the one goal he did give up came in the midst of the Habs completely running over the Toews line, in one of the stretches where it felt like the Hawks were dispossessed for hours at a time (there were many of these). For all the Habs’ dominance in possession, he was up to the task the rest of the time with a number of excellent saves, and overcame some rebound issues early on. People can sing Lehner’s praises all they want, but Crawford is god.

–It was good to see DeBrincat score, especially on a power play. Nothing earth-shattering, but let’s take what we can get.

So far, so good on this road trip. Or train trip, which the broadcast wouldn’t shut the fuck up about. They honestly sounded like old-timey boosters describing the wonders of the new iron horse, as if millions of people don’t take trains every damn day (and as if professional soccer teams in Europe don’t use them constantly to get to games). Dumbasses. But hey, wins are wins, so onward and upward…

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

Max Domi – Everything we said about Matt Duchene’s face but then add in ignorant MAGA views and his shithead father.

Nick Cousins – Important reminder: He’s a rapist and Kyle Dubas covered for him.

Dale Weise – It doesn’t get enough attention that this guy cost the Hawks Phillip Danault, and then the Habs ended up with both anyway. Like, that’s nearly as bad as this Nylander-for-Jokiharju bit.

Hockey

I was not a huge fan of the Blackhawks moves over the offseason, but just about all of them were understandable. They brought in some defensemen, even if not great ones, because they clearly needed blue line help. They traded Artem Anisimov for Zach Smith because they both suck, but Smith was ever-so-slightly cheaper. They signed Robin Lehner to shore up the crease, which has seen a lot of instability lately, and provide insurance for an aging Crawford.

But trading for Andrew Shaw was a move that I cannot understand in any sense other than “this is a guy we are familiar with.” Shaw is still everything he was when the Hawks got rid of him three years ago, which is: not as good as he gets credit for, frustrating as shit with his penalties, and expensive relative to his skill level and production. Let’s just get this over with.

2018-19 Stats (with Canadiens)

63 GP – 19 G – 28 A – 47 P

52.43 CF% (-2.39 CF% Rel) – 50.29 oZS%

53.79 xGF% (-0.29xGF% Rel)

Avg. TOI: 15:55

A Brief History: The common line being used in defense of the trade when it happened was that Shaw was coming off a career year in Montreal. And that is correct. Shaw’s overall contribution of 47 points was by far a career high, marking the first time in that he exceeded the 40-point mark. He also did that despite missing 19 games, putting him on a ~62 point pace had he appeared in all 82 (which he has never done in his career, by the way). That seems good! “So, Adam, why do you hate this trade so much?” you may be asking. Well, dear reader, because all of that production will be as fleeting as a fart in the wind.

Shaw’s shooting percentage of 14.1 last year was the second highest of his career, and tied for the highest-mark he’s ever posted in a “full” season, with only his 16.2% conversion rate in 37 games in rookie campaign being better. Moreover, Shaw had shot right around the 10% mark in the each of the four years prior, going 10.2%, 9.2%, 9.4%, and 10.6% from 2014-15 to 2017-18. Now sure, that was after doing a 14.1 and 13.4 percent in his first two full years, including a 20 goal season in 2013-14, but since then he had been consistently mediocre and had never topped 15 goals until last season.

I would love to be wrong about Shaw here, but I feel like trading future 2nd and 3rd round picks for a guy like Shaw, who projects to regress hard and will still cost you almost $4-million against the salary cap for two more years is going to end up looking like a hugely stupid move in the future. The Hawks are essentially banking on last year not being a fluke, and if we know anything about hockey, it’s that you should always be speculative about a guy having a career year at 27 years old. It was smart to get rid of him when they did back in 2016, and they even ended up with Alex DeBrincat as a result. It would’ve been smarter to adopt a no returns policy on this one.

It Was The Best of Times: Shaw proves that I am a huge fucking idiot with no clue what he is talking about, and goes out there shooting and playing at a similar level to last season, showing that it was not a fluke. He plays in all 82 games, getting some run on multiple lines but ending up a surprising first line right wing with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad, and scores 20 goals for the second time in his career. By virtue of keeping up his ’18-’19 scoring pace and playing all 82, he tops 50 points for the first time in his career and gets close to 60, and he has a mutually beneficial relationship as a lineman with 19 and 20, helping to power the Hawks to the playoffs.

It Was the BLURST of Times: The luck pendulum swings to the other side on Shaw, and he ends up a $4-million fourth liner as he shoots 6% and can’t even top 10 goals, the first time in his career failing to meet that mark. Frustrated by his lack of scoring and overall suckage, he starts taking Tom Wilson-esque runs at opponents, and ends up with a career high PIM total, putting the Hawks shit ass PK on the ice way more often than it should be. As a result, the Hawks lose a number of games with opposing PPG’s as the difference, and it costs the Hawks a playoff spot in the end.

Prediction: Shaw ends up returning to what he really is – a somewhat versatile forward with a propensity for stupid plays, who shoots 10% and adds 12-15 goals for you and 30-35 points. I’ll go ahead and call it 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points. That will all be well and fine on the third line, but it’s not much better than you could’ve gotten from the guys you already had here, and I’m damn near positive it’s not worth the draft capital the Hawks gave up to get him here.

Robin Lehner

Corey Crawford

Adam Boqvist

Carl Dahlstrom

Calvin de Haan

Erik Gustafsson

Duncan Keith

Slater Koekkoek

Olli Maatta

Connor Murphy

Drake Caggiula

Ryan Carpenter

Alex DeBrincat

David Kampf

Patrick Kane

Alex Nylander

Brendan Perlini

Brandon Saad

Zack Smith

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.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It’s been three seasons now, so the shock of the Shea Weber-PK Subban trade has worn off. Subban has gone on to anchor a Cup-contender for his entire time in Nashville, while Weber’s record in Montreal is much more spotty. Canadiens diehards (read: sycophants) would tell you that all of Subban’s teammates hate him in Nashville, as they did in Montreal, at least according to the tinfoil hat brigade. Sadly for the Habs, Weber hasn’t been around all that much to generate any kind of opinion amongst those who share his colors.

Weber’s scoring has maintained its usual pace. It’s just a tick below what he did in yellow, but he’s been better than a point-per-every-other-game. The problem is that Weber hasn’t been able to make the bell that often of late. He only played 26 games last year, and missed an additional 23 this year. Now, that’s all due to one knee surgery, but a large, physical d-man on a repaired knee is not the optimal situation. Still, before that Weber was the picture of stability, never missing more than four games in a year.

Digging a bit deeper, Weber has never really been a great metric player. He hasn’t carried a possession-rate above his team’s rate since 2012. He’s never been all that far below it either, but he’ll go as the team goes. His scoring-chance relative numbers are pretty much the same. Where Weber has excelled in the great chances department, as he’s been above the rate in high-danger percentage in the past four seasons. That has continued this season as well, though not as high as the past three.

The question for the Canadiens is does Weber fit into the new world they’ve created. Weber was brought in back when the Habs were under Michel Therrien and were still under the impression they had to be knuckle-dragging, frothing swamp creatures that chased the coveted-by-morons label “hard to play against.” When that resulted in exactly dick, the Habs have spent the past year transitioning into a smaller, faster team that tries to get up the ice as soon as possible. Play off the rush, carry the puck through the neutral zone and and into the offensive one, and try and generate chances before the other team can get set up. It’s parroting or copying what the Penguins and Knights and others have done recently.

Weber is still a gifted passer, but especially on a surgically-repaired knee he’s never been all that quick. Maybe Weber can adapt to flying passes from his zone to the other blue line to streaking forwards. He’s going to have to. He’s never been one to carry the puck himself, that’s what Roman Josi was for in Nashville, and Ryan Suter before that. But if you’re stationary, that means quicker and quicker forechecking forwards can get to you before you hit those outlet passes. Even if Weber can open himself up now, he’s 33 and coming off knee problems. How much more time until he can’t?

Which is obviously a problem, because as you probably know Weber is signed until the Earth’s heat-death. These days his $7.8M hit doesn’t look as bad (wait until Gustafsson asks for this in the summer of ’20), but it’s not insignificant either. We all knew this when the move was made, obviously.

The Canadiens didn’t have to move too much comfortable furniture to upgrade to this lightning-bug team. Max Pacioretty didn’t really fit, but he was leaving anyway and he hasn’t fit all that well in Vegas either who do the same thing. Karl Alzner ended up in the AHL. But they may soon find they have the biggest decision to make yet.

 

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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.

 

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We’re not anti-facial hair. We can’t be. Our editor doesn’t have a chin and uses a beard to cover that up. But there seems to be a hockey rule that if you’re going to wear a beard full-time, it has to be stupidly big. And if you have a big, stupid beard, you can probably fool people into thinking you’re intimidating and a physical presence. You look like one, so you must be one. If you think hockey scouting has moved beyond “looking like one,” you haven’t been paying attention. Hockey scouts are still trying to sell jeans here, to borrow a term.

Jordie Benn has that along with the lucky last name policy. Don’t make it complicated. Jordie Benn sucks. He always has. If his name was Jordie Shnrub he’d be on a bus somewhere heading to somewhere you wouldn’t want to be. Throw in a big beard, and you can’t get rid of him. Oh he blocks a lot of shots? Does it count when you simply can’t get out of the way? We don’t think it does.

And he’s got a beard. He’s not Joe Thornton, who at least has old-man-who’s-too-tired-to-shave excuse built in. He’s not Brent Burns, who’s trying really hard to be weird. This isn’t Park Slope, so fuck off with that shit, Jordie. We might actually believe you growl and grunt when on the ice. You clearly want us to. But it’s not helping with anything.

Unless you’re in Anthrax, trim that shit up and leave us alone.

 

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