Flortheast Division Previews: The Montreal Canadiens

Cam Charron
October 01 2013 06:02AM

Over the next few days, we'll take a brief look at the teams in Toronto's newest division. The division is called the "Atlantic" but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division "The Flortheast". We will get team bloggers from each group to profile their teams as we get ready to start the season…

Today's first preview comes from Andrew at Habs Eyes on the Prize, a blog representing that weird part of Canada where they lather their fried potatoes with gravy and cheese curds when they aren't staging protests to protest… something.

INTRO:

The Montreal Canadiens stormed out of the gate in January after one of the worst seasons in franchise history, reinvigorated by healthy veterans and a talented youth movement. They got another boost six games in when franchise defenseman (and reigning Norris Trophy winner) P.K. Subban signed his contract and returned to the lineup. Buoyed by the healthy lineup, no longer having a completely incompetent coaching staff, and a fair amount of luck, the Habs rocketed to the top of the Northeast division and stayed there for essentially the entire season. Ten roster players paced for at least 45 points over a full season, including two defensemen. But luck can turn against you at any moment, and it did in the first round against Ottawa.

Gone from last year are Michael Ryder, Colby Armstrong, Yannick Weber, and Jeff Halpern; and in are Daniel Briere, George Parros, and Douglas Murray. Not exactly inspiring changes, as GM Marc Bergevin made no effort to re-sign perhaps the best moneypuck 4th liner in the league in Halpern, and acquired an aging scorer along with two pluggers. The assumption is that the team can be as good as last year as long as the young players continue to develop, but what many are ignoring is the fact that the Canadiens were so good last year in spite of Carey Price having his worst season to date. It's extremely unlikely that the 26 year old goaltender doesn't bounce back, and if he's even in the top 15 starting goaltenders, the Canadiens are a team to watch this coming year.

THREE QUESTIONS:

Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk both had high on-ice shooting percentages. Any worry about a sophomore slump for either player?

Not really worried, even though that seems counter-intuitive. Most of the high percentage scoring that Galchenyuk did was while on a line with Brandon Prust, and he didn't get much of a chance at all on the powerplay. Galchenyuk also looks like the kind of guy who's going to score on a high percentage of shots. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him flirt with a 15% shooting percentage a few times in his career. His even strength production will slide, but increased powerplay time should make up for that, not to mention increased ice time overall, he barely played last year.

Gallagher is a bit more intriguing because he was playing an extremely sheltered role last year with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, and although the quality of his linemates won't really be going down with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, he'll be facing mid-level toughs and I doubt he'll get 60% of his starts in the offensive zone. But, he is a pure shot producer. Even if his shooting percentage drops, he's going to create enough offence that no one should be worried. The guy who should see a drop in ES production is Eller, who got a point on 86.2% of goals scored while he was on the ice. But then again, he had an absurdly low shooting percentage personally, so it may only be assists that drop.

So... is Healthy Andrei Markov a thing now? Is he the same player that he was years ago? What's your overall read on him?

It sure looks like Markov is healthy now. You'll hear Habs fans and media saying he couldn't even handle a 48 game schedule, but those people forget that he also played 21 KHL games. It was Markov's first full season after all his surgeries, and he seems to have adjusted well. The problem with Markov though, is that he still plays like pre-surgery Markov. Meaning that he makes bad pinches quite often, and he doesn't have the footspeed to get back when it turns against him. Alexei Emelin did an okay job covering for him, but not a great one. Emelin's main job was to take the abuse in the corners and save Markov from having to do that, and his absence was very obvious for Markov until he was paired with P.K. Subban (Subban and Markov together = 65.3% Corsi).  He's still an elite powerplay guy, and a top 4 defenseman, but he's not great defensively and is very high risk. If the Habs had better options for the second pairing, you'd probably see a Markov - Subban pairing regularly.

Why must the Canadiens insist on pairing Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais? What kind of team would put an American winger with a fairly mediocre centreman that the local fanbase loves? Really.

I dunno man. It's been 2 full seasons and we're looking at a third where Pacioretty's ability to dominate possession is wasted on Desharnais. I understand that Therrien wants balance throughout the lineup, but the fact is that Pacioretty should be playing 20 minutes a night in tough minutes, not 15-16 in easy ones. If they were just building up Desharnais' value for a trade I would understand it, but the 4 year contract they recently gave him tells me that they aren't planning on doing that. Saddling Pacioretty with Briere on top of that just seems like a smack in the face. You would think that making the first line better at the expense of the third line would make sense to a coaching staff, but they are extremely hesitant to do it. This leads to stupid things like Rene Bourque getting more even strength ice time than Max, which is absolutely insane. 

KEY STATS:

2013 Stats Montreal (Lg. Rank)
Points/82 Games 107.6 (4th)
Goal Differential +23 (3rd)
Corsi Tied 55.3% (2nd)
5v5 Shot % 8.89% (6th)
5v5 Save % .921 (16th)
PDO 101.0 (9th)

Strong underlying numbers for the Canadiens. You'd think that most of the regression that comes from Gallagher and Galchenyuk's shooting percentage coming down to normal will be offset by Carey Price becoming an elite goalie again.

Numbers via NHL.com and Hockey Analysis.

JEFFLER'S TAKE:

Is the window opening or closing for the Montreal Canadiens? After going from the playoffs, to the basement, to among the top of the league in a three year span, nobody really knows. What is known is that the Habs would like to add an exclamation point to 2013's statement year, and are in a unique position to accomplish it.

George Parros should provide the ever-so-controversial "protection" in games against more aggressive teams. Danny Briere isn't as good as he was the last time the Habs persued him, but he should be a solid contributor in the top six. Alex Galchenyuk is due to continue blossoming into a top-end centre on a team that's already very comfortable down the middle. Really, the Habs are loaded with forward depth, to the point where some many be expendable in persuit of an upgrade.

The back end is a tricky situation. Other than Josh Gorges, the entire back end is basically on a contract year. This may cause serious repercussions in July, but until then, the D core will be men on missions to have their best years yet. Between the pipes, Carey Price needs to have a bounce back season to prove his worth, especially with Peter Budaj being a more-expensive-than-most backup. Olympic hopes will likely boost Price's drive.

While not contenders yet, I see good things in the Habs' future, even immediately.

CHARRON'S TAKE:

2nd place in Corsi Tied last season… 4th place in the NHL standings, why am I not more optimistic about this group?

It's almost like there's some intuitive force keeping me from predicting big things about the Canadiens, sort of like how Charlie Brown had no way to explain why he had trouble getting into the Christmas season.

I'm not big on Danny Briere, I'm not big on Brandon Prust, or the pickup of Parros in place of skill, and I'm certainly no fan of Douglas Murray (though he'll begin the season on injured reserve). There's a group of scary Canadians ranging from Pacioretty to Galchenyuk. Brian Gionta is probably gone from that group (I'll probably end up eating those words) but they do have the best defenceman in hockey in P.K. Subban, who is not only an offensive wizard but rarely plays in his own zone.

His scoring, and the scoring rate of the Gally twins should drop, but there's probably more to make up for it in other places. It should be very tight in the top half of the Flortheast Division.

CONSENSUS RANKINGS:

A lot of 4s, with a pair of 2s and a 3. Pretty awful cribbage hand:

  BOS BUF DET FLA MTL OTT TB TOR AVG
Montreal 3 2 4 4 2 4 4 4 3.4

Fun fact: no blogger ranked their own team fourth.

OTHER FLORTHEAST PREVIEWS:

5 - Toronto Maple Leafs
6 - Tampa Bay Lightning
7 - Florida Panthers
8 - Buffalo Sabres

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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