Some thoughts on the Habs

As the Habs approach the 15 game mark, it’s a good time to have a look to see how the team is doing so far.

By Johnny Barboza Jamie Fitzpatrick (travail personnel (own work) Jamie

Tomas Plekanec is off to a great start this season.

And I’m confused as to how good, or not-so-good, this team is.

Sure, the Montreal Canadiens are third in the Eastern conference, and first in the Northeast. But after winning seven of their first 10 games, the Habs haven’t looked good lately.

What is the true Habs team? Probably somewhere in between the great start and the last few games.

The were three reasons for the team’s hot start: Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Carey Price.

Tomas Plekanec has been a lot better than I thought he would be, although he is slowing down the past few games (the flu will do that to a person though, so he gets a temporary pass).

Kostitsyn is showing his talent again. Hopefully, he can keep it up consistently, instead of just having flashes of it here and there.

And Price has been dynamite. He’s kept the Habs in the games, has made a lot of great saves, and is probably the top reason why the Habs are doing so well.

But it hasn’t all been good. Here are the reasons why I’m worried.

Scott Gomez celebrating a goal? This must be an old photo.

• When the top line was light out, everyone was saying “Just wait until Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez gets going.” But I was looking at it the other way, saying “what happens when the Pleks line stops scoring.” And now it’s happened. Thankfully the third line is picking up the
slack.

Gionta and Gomez, who make $12.3 million between them, have a total of three goals. That’s brutal. Part of the problem, to me, is the way coach Jacques Martin is juggling the lines. If you put Lars Eller (or whoever) on the second line, don’t take him out after a game or a period. Keep him there for five games and see if he can learn how to play with the other two. But every game, it seems as if Gionta and Gomez are playing with someone different. It must be hard to develop chemistry that way.

While watching the Sens-Habs game from the other day, my wife asked, “Who’s #11? He looks lazy.” That’s Scott Gomez. One thing I’ve noticed about him is that when there’s a turnover in the offensive zone, instead of starting to skate, his sticks his stick out in an effort to slow down the opposing player. It’s just a matter of time before he starts getting called for hooking.

By Resolute [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

I like Travis Moen, but he shouldn't be playing on the top two lines.

• I like Travis Moen, I really do. But he should not be getting top six minutes. Ever. He’s a good grinder who chips in the with the odd goal. But he shouldn’t be playing with Gomez and Gionta on a regular basis.

• I’d love to see Montreal have a player who isn’t scared to knock an opposing player on his butt. But I realize that’s less and less likely with the style of play the Habs use.

• Andrei Markov looks like he needs another month off. He has not looked good since coming back. Granted, he missed all of training camp due to injury, but he doesn’t look like a leader back there.

• The powerplay has been putrid. It’s last on the NHL. About the only good thing about is that they haven’t given up a shorthanded goal (one of only seven teams to do so). But it’s not working. And Martin’s changes only leaves me scratching my head.

When the Habs have a long 5 on 3 powerplay, they put Gionta out there, despite the fact he’s had a bad season. Wouldn’t it be better to put someone out there that can put the puck in the net? And of course, when Gionta had the best chance on the powerplay, he didn’t score.

PK Subban seems to be deferring to Andrei Markov on the powerplay.

This past Saturday, against the Sens, he put Mike Cammalleri on the point, which was brutal, and lasted for one period. Cammy was playing right defence, would streak down the left side and dump the puck in. But the Sens players could dump the puck out pretty easily, because Cammalleri was on the wrong side of the ice. Cammy needs the one-timers. He’s not the one who should be carrying the puck in.

When he took Cammalleri off the point, he put PK Subban there. But that meant Subban and Markov were playing together at the same time on the powerplay, which is a bad thing. Really, they should have Subban play with Jaroslav Spacek on the powerplay, and Markov with Roman Hamrlik. That way, their top two powerplay defencemen are playing on two separate lines, and it helps both lines. When Markov is playing with Subban, PK seems hesitant to shoot the puck as much, deferring to the elder defenceman. That’s not a good thing. Splitting them up should change that.

And finally about powerplay, despite all the changes, Martin still doesn’t get anyone to stand in front of the net. When the Bruins powerplay struggles, they put Chara in front of the net. When the Sens have trouble, they stick Chris Neil there. When the Habs have trouble, they stay the same. Why not take a Hal Gill or a Ryan O’Byrne and stick him in front of the net. That not only screens the goalie, but forces a defenceman to come play the Hab player in front of the net, opening up the ice for the other guys. (I also find it sad I couldn’t think of a big body tough guy Montreal could stick in front of the net besides two defensive defencemen.)

• The faceoffs have been brutal for Montreal this season. It’s turning into their Achilles heel. They’re 24th in the league in faceoffs. Jeff Halpern is the only regular faceoff guy at above 50 per cent, at 56.4. So next time there’s an important faceoff during a game, why not put Halpern out there? The guy can score, and does play strong defence. So could it hurt to put him out there in the final minute while nursing a 2-1 lead? Or for that matter, at any point of a game?

By Vava manouche (Own work by author) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carey Price needs to make sure the upcoming Canucks game doesn't affect him.

• The next game is a big one for Price. Last season, Price was rolling along, playing awesomely, making 77 saves in his first two games, victories over the Leafs and Sabres, allowing only four goals total. Then came a west coast trip and he played the Canucks. Remember, Price is from B.C., and so there must have been extra pressure on him. Unfortunately, the defence forgot to show up, and Price let in seven goals in two periods (none were his fault, they were all two on ones, or guys standing along in front of the net).

Price struggled after that, losing his next six games, allowing Jaroslav Halak to come in and steal the #1 job. Now it’s up to Price to make sure this game against the Canucks, win or lose, doesn’t derail his season… again.

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