NHL PLAYOFFS 2013: Montreal Canadiens – Back in the game…

The Montreal Canadiens salute the crowd.  Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette.

The Montreal Canadiens salute the crowd. Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette.

As we get closer to the playoffs, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team’s roster as they clinch a spot in the postseason.

Next, the Montreal Canadiens.

SEASON LOWDOWN

Max Pacioretty celebrates scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Image courtesy of CBC.ca.

Max Pacioretty celebrates scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Image courtesy of CBC.ca.

NOTE: THIS POST WAS WRITTEN PRIOR TO LAST NIGHT’S LOSS VERSUS PITTSBURGH, HENCE STATS ARE AS OF 16/04/13.

The Montreal Canadiens have surprised almost everybody this year.  After finishing 3rd from bottom in 2011/12, they’ve rocketed up the standings this year to the point where they were just the 3rd team of the year to clinch a playoff spot, and even have a chance to take 1st in the Eastern Conference.  The team has been strong in each month of the season, and have only lost 2 games in a row twice all season so far.  That said, they are currently 4-4-0 in April so far, which is their worst record in any month of the season, so as we approach the playoffs things aren’t perfect, but they’re not horrible either.

They have also accomplished such a sterling record without too many of their best players playing in good luck.  PDO is a statistic that essentially measures whether a player is playing in good luck or bad luck – it is the sum of On-Ice Save Percentage and On-Ice Shooting Percentage; this number will always eventually revert towards 1000.  This means that if the number is higher than 1000, the player is playing “in good luck”, and likely isn’t as good as his stats show, and vice versa if the number is below 1000.  It is by no means a perfect measurement but it’s proven to be a pretty good predictor of what’s to come for a player or a team.

By looking at PDO, we can see that players like Max Pacioretty (977), Brendan Gallagher (981), David Desharnais (961), and Andrei Markov (984) – some of the team’s best players – are all playing in bad luck, meaning they are due for a rebound.  This is good news as we approach the playoffs, providing that turn around in luck happens in this shortened season.  It should be noted that PK Subban, who has emerged as a superstar defenceman this season, is playing in good luck with a PDO of 1014, and shouldn’t necessarily see his good luck continue.  That said, he plays at such a high level anyway, that regression won’t be massive.

2012/13 Season Team Stats (to date):

42 Games – 26 Wins – 11 Losses – 5 OT Losses – 57 Points

Goals For = 131

Goals Against = 107

Goal Differential = +24

Home Record = 13-6-3

Away Record = 13-5-2

CURRENT LINEUP

Forwards:

RENE BOURQUE – TOMAS PLEKANEC – BRIAN GIONTA

MAX PACIORETTY – DAVID DESHARNAIS – MICHAEL RYDER

BRANDON PRUST – LARS ELLER – BRENDAN GALLAGHER

TRAVIS MOEN – JEFF HALPERN – ALEX GALCHENYUK

Defence:

ANDREI MARKOV – FRANCIS BOUILLON

JOSH GORGES – PK SUBBAN

YANNICK WEBER – DAVIS DREWISKE

Goal:

CAREY PRICE

PETER BUDAJ

EXTRA: RYAN WHITE, MIKE BLUNDEN

INJURED: ALEXEI EMELIN, RAPHAEL DIAZ, COLBY ARMSTRONG

TOP SCORERS

canadiens 2013 scoring

EVALUATION

Brendan Gallagher races a member of the Florida Panthers for the puck.  Image courtesy of Zimbio.com.

Brendan Gallagher races a member of the Florida Panthers for the puck. Image courtesy of Zimbio.com.

On the whole, this is just a really nice balanced roster, nothing spectacular but plenty of nice players.  Up front, you have the offensive play-drivers in Pacioretty, Desharnais and Gallagher, and the likes of Michael Ryder and Alex Galchenyuk putting up points against tougher competition.  Pacioretty is a great power forward who really leads this team with his physical style and goal scoring talent, whilst rookies Galchenyuk and Gallagher have really surprised with their output this season.  Ryder was definitely a worthwhile re-acquisition for Montreal, despite his streakiness as a scorer.  Plekanec may not be a number 1 center in the truest sense, as his scoring is not elite, but he does a lot of things really well and is a solid player in all situations – very similar to Shawn Horcoff circa 2005-2008.

Brian Gionta is having a solid season in a secondary scoring role, whilst taking on tough competition to allow the younger players some easier minutes.  Lars Eller has settled nicely into the 3rd line center role, providing  physical play, a scoring touch and some PK ability.  Rene Bourque isn’t the player Montreal hoped for when they acquired him last year from Calgary, but he does provide physical play and some offence.

The bottom six has some capable NHLers in Travis Moen and Jeff Halpern, and once Colby Armstrong returns from injury he’ll add some two-way ability to the team.  Ryan White is a facepuncher and not much more really; I don’t expect him to be a factor in the playoffs.

PK Subban celebrates scoring a goal.  Image courtesy of sportsrantz.com.

PK Subban celebrates scoring a goal. Image courtesy of sportsrantz.com.

On defence, the team is obviously led by superstar PK Subban.  Subban has been one of the more underrated defenceman the last couple of years, but has exploded this year after missing the first few games of the season whilst his contract was negotiated.  It’s extremely rare to have a defenceman lead a team in scoring – in fact I think the last player to manage it was Dick Tarnstrom of Pittsburgh before the 04/05 lockout, though correct me if I’m wrong.  He’s brilliant on defence as well, controlling the play and driving it up the ice away from the Habs’ net.  Andrei Markov, the elder statesman in Montreal, is having a fine season following a long layoff due to injury, although he’s struggled a bit defensively.  He would be on pace for over 50 points in a full year.

Francis Bouillon is a grizzled veteran who is in his 10th season as a Hab in three different stints, and at 37 should be slowing down, but has managed to perform well playing around 18 minutes per night in all situations and not being a liability.  Josh Gorges is the team’s top defensive defender, taking on tough competition and handling it extremely well.  He plays over 21 minutes per night, including over 3 minutes per game on the PK – he will be a vital component for Montreal in the playoffs.  Drewiske is a bottom pairing defender, nothing more – he has value on the penalty kill, but does not offer a whole lot else.  Weber, who has been out with injury most of the season, is a solid two-way player who is reliable if not over-used.  The team will be in a lot better shape once they get Diaz and Emelin back, as they are both far better players than Drewiske and Weber, although they are both likely done for the year with a concussion and a knee injury respectively.

Carey Price stretches across the crease to make a save.  Image courtesy of lapresse.ca.

Carey Price stretches across the crease to make a save. Image courtesy of lapresse.ca.

In goal, Carey Price has had a middling year at best, with a .907 SV% and a 2.54 GAA, but his past record indicates he’s a much better goalie than that.  It’s impossible to predict a goalie’s future performance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up his game in the playoffs; then again, it could go completely sideways, who knows.  If he falters, Peter Budaj is a capable backup, although he doesn’t have a lot of experience in the playoffs (just 4 playoff games over his 8 NHL seasons, with no wins).

STAR PLAYOFF PERFORMER

PK Subban looks up ice.  Image courtesy of nationalpost.com.

PK Subban looks up ice. Image courtesy of nationalpost.com.

This is a tricky one.  I think the likes of Pacioretty, Gallagher and Galchenyuk will all be important parts for the team in any kind of playoff run, but I have to go with Subban to be the central figure this year.  His play so far is out of this world, and with his maturity on and off the ice apparently going up a notch this year, he could be just the guy to lead the Canadiens back into the playoffs.

PREDICTION

Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette.

Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette.

Whilst I like this Habs team, I’m not sure they quite have that spark as a group that is needed to get them very far in the playoffs, particularly with their strong year faltering in April..  I see them dropping in the first round, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see them scrape through to the second round with some luck.

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