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

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.

 

Game #71 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 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

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


arcadefire2013vs. Hawk Wrestler

RECORDS: Canadiens 13-1-1  Hawks 10-3-2

PUCK DROP: A great 6pm start

TV: WGN, Sportsnet up ‘dere

STUCK AT SCHWARTZ’S: Habs Eyes On The Prize

Projected Lineups

canadiens-lineup-card

blackhawks-lineup-card

SCORE-ADJUSTED CF%: Canadiens – 50.4% (10th)  Hawks – 49.9% (13th)

POWER PLAY: Canadiens – 21.7% (8th)  Hawks – 19.7% (12th)

PENALTY KILL: Canadiens – 80.6% (18th)  Hawks – Almost suck!

TRENDS: In a previous life, Radulov had 11 points in 16 career games against the Hawks… Danault has three goals and four points in his last four games

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Canadiens get out to an incredibly hot start, with passable but nothing more underlying numbers and Carey Price once again proving he’s head and shoulders the best goalie in the world. Their fans and media are getting awfully yappy at those who laughed at their moron coach and GM over the summer, and they’re already planning the parade. Does this sound familiar?

You bet your ass it does.

Everything Else

Sadly the Canadiens only visit once a season, so we don’t get to talk to our good friend Laura The Active Stick as much as we’d like (@TheActiveStick). But hey, she’s been out drinking with me and lived to tell the tale. More than Fifth Feather and his wrist can say. Let’s see what she has to tell us about the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.

Here we go again. The Habs are on top of the East to start, their underlying numbers are just north of ok, and everyone’s losing their mud. Other than Price staying healthy, why is this team different from last year’s?

I’m cautiously optimistic. The Canadiens are giving up a lot of shots and struggling with getting out of their own zone. The good news is that I think it’s a strategy issue more than a personnel issue. They need to work on that. The other good news is that Carey Price is their goaltender. Nobody wins a Stanley Cup by themselves, but if one player can, it’s Carey Price. 

Everything Else

This blog has never hidden its affection for Pernell Karl Subban. It’s just a shame that the rest of the hockey world, specifically the one that considers itself so polite and understanding (and cold), wouldn’t follow suit. That’s ok though. PK Subban can probably make a bigger impact on the sport on this side of the 49th, and we certainly won’t ever make him apologize for who he is.

We’ll get to the off the ice stuff that the Predators have gotten in what is going to be an absolute steal of a trade, no matter how much the crusty hockey media is going full force today to show how well Shea Weber fits in with the Canadiens after one fucking game (though you won’t see anyone writing “because he’s white” which is really what they’re saying). First it’s important how much of an improvement the Preds are getting on the ice.

Everything Else

predator vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, NBCSN, SportsNet East, WGN-AM 720
Napalm The University of Tennesee Athletic Department: On The Forecheck

Tonight’s game will conclude the season series between the Hawks and Preds. And while the Hawks have already won the season series outright(3-1-0), the Predators have exposed some of the flaws in the composition of the Hawks’ roster in the process. And they’ll catch the Preds during their most productive streak of the season, having taken points in 7 straight games, and winning four straight games on the road, and eight of their last nine.