Do I Regurgitate Myself? I Regurgitate Myself: Revisiting Pre-Season Predictions

by Jacob Saltiel
canadiens

How You Doin’?
from theglobeandmail.com

14 games in, the Canadiens are in 5th place in the East. They’ve  mixed in some brilliant games, such as Saturday’s victory of Philadelphia, with some troubling losses to Toronto, (the infamous 6-0 beatdown) and a poor Buffalo team (5-4 collapse). Despite this, the Canadiens have proven themselves capable of taking care of business more often than not, and with some internal improvement can start moving up the Eastern conference ladder, especially with the injuries to key players in Ottawa and Toronto.

With over a quarter of the season gone, let’s examine some idiotic things a certain hockey blogger forecasted in the preseason:

1. Penalty MURDAH

January 18th, from “More Grit, But Will There Be More Wins?”:

“On the penalty kill, the greatest improvement Therrien might cause is scaring the holy hell out of his players to cut down on their penalty minutes, giving penalty killers Plekanec and Gorges more time at 5-on-5. Last year the Canadiens spent 521 minutes and 26 seconds killing penalties. That was the most time spent on the PK in the entire league and, were the penalties strung together consecutively, represents 8.6 entire games in the box. That’s more than 10% of the season down a player, and that needs to change.”

As of this morning, the Canadiens remain 28th in the league for time shorthanded with 108:24 minutes. Despite that, they’ve actually spent 7 minutes and 38 seconds more on the powerplay. While it is nice that they still have more time outnumbering the opposition, the Canadiens still need to learn to take fewer penalties to keep their players fresh at the end of games.

When the Canadiens lost 5-4 to Buffalo, coughing up 3 goals in 6 minutes at the end of the game, a lot of haterade was passed around to Ryan White for his double-minor for roughing. In total, the Canadiens racked up 16 minutes of penalties for the game, meaning that for more than a quarter of the game, someone was in the box for something. Might the crumble have been the result of chasing extra players for much of the evening?

Keep in mind also, Lars Eller has the highest faceoff win % of all Canadiens centres with an even 50%. He’s also taken the fewest faceoffs amongst centres, with even Alex Galchenyuk (43.8%) having taken a few more. Penalty killing can’t possibly be helped by mediocre faceoff skills, so the Canadiens would do better to avoid such situations.

As for penalty killing statistics, the Canadiens are a middle of the pack 14th in PK%, though they rank 18th in the league with 12 powerplay goals allowed.

Even if the Habs have a good record to this point of the season, the penalty kill and penalty minutes remain areas of desired improvement.

2. Galchenyuk in MTL

On January 16th, the following was written about the decision of whether or not to keep Galchenyuk with the NHL team:

“The only justification for keeping Galchenyuk in the lineup this year is if Bergevin seriously believes that he will make the difference between lifting the Cup and not.”

To date, Galchenyuk’s played well, scoring 8 points, usually on a line with the now-concussed Brendan Gallagher and the crusty veteran Prust. That column was never about whether or not Galchenyuk could play in the NHL, but if it were desirable to fast track him there.

While he’s been a good 3rd-line centre for the Habs, his faceoff mediocrity (cited above), combined with the necessity to play him all season has rendered Eller an awkward piece in the lineup.

The Canadiens now have Eller playing in a non-scoring role, or out of position as a winger. In both cases, his potential is being wasted and he might have used that 3rd line role occupied by Galchenyuk to greater effect this season. Sure, with the glut of offensive centres the Canadiens have on the team, Eller might have had to be traded eventually to make room for Galchenyuk, but with more ice time and offensive role, he’d have been given a better opportunity to increase his value as a trade piece.

As for Galchenyuk, he played well to start the season, but has tailed off slightly and cannot necessarily be trusted in pressure situations, limiting Therrien’s tactical options. On the powerplay, he’s been so-so while adjusting to NHL special teams strategies.

All in all, was it worth it? Is it credible that the Canadiens maintain their rank in the standings all season and enter the playoffs as serious contenders?

3. Traded Last Season, Bourque Finally Arrives in Montreal

January 15th:

“Rene Bourque is signed until 2016. 

Think about that. Think about 4 more seasons of watching him make children cry and grown men curse with his lackadaisical play, and even if- even if!- Kaberle’s cap hit is nearly a million more than his, Bourque’s 3.33m/year salary lasts far longer than Kaberle’s.  The only players signed for longer than Bourque on the Habs today are Pacioretty, Gorges, and Price. Bourque, 31, doesn’t play with the grit or have the defensive awareness to play on the 3rd or 4th lines, and will essentially be a handicap on the team’s spending until 2016.

2016.  Four more years. That’s a long time.”

Since then, Bourque has gone on to tie Markov and Diaz for second in points scored by a Canadien, with 10.

More importantly, he’s done so by playing a linear game that maximizes his size and strength. It seems an awful lot as if Therrien took a map of a hockey rink, drew a big arrow to the front of the oppontent’s net, and told Bourque to drive there every single time Plekanec, Gionta, or anything else wearing blue, red, and white have the puck facing the right direction.

It’s not a complicated directive, but one that complements Plekanec’s skills as a puckcarrier and passer and leaves opposing defences with little choice but to give more space to Bourque’s linemates. He can’t be left alone in front of the net, leaving a simple but nerve-wracking dilemma for the competition.

Kaberle, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen outside of the pressbox in some time.

4. Hold the Line

The Canadiens defence hasn’t changed much from last year, but the return of Markov has been crucial. On January 14th, BGS predicted as much:

“Looking ahead to this year, the Canadiens defence could improve, with the addition by subtraction of Campoli,who had 32 turnovers in 43 games, or a similar amount as guys who played at least 30 more games like CorvoWhite, andBoychuk. The return to health of Markov (as long as it lasts), and the depth addition of Bouillon should also help.”

Markov’s Matrix-like ability to anticipate the play, pass surgically, and appear in strange places to score is a welcome addition to the lineup. Playing even-strength with Emelin and on the man-advantage with Diaz has maximized the hitting and passing talents, respectively, of both players.

After Subban’s return, the top-6 has been solid and capable chipping in a decent bit of offence (Diaz and Markov are tied for second on team scoring with 10 points each). Subban playing in a shutdown role with Gorges has been excellent, and as a whole the group’s toughness has been improved over season’s past.

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