It seems weird to call the 24-game mark of a season the half-way point, but in a strike-shortened season, your Habs start the second half in first place. As has been the case for most of the first half, the Bruins should pass the CH at some point given the fact that they are only 1 point behind with 3 games in hand. Still, even at that, Montreal would have the 2nd most points in the conference should this come to pass, holding 4th place, due to the NHL’s ridiculous insistence on having divisional leaders comprising the top 3 playoff spots. But that’s a blog for another day.
What we do know is that the first half simply could not have gone better for the Montreal Canadiens. I have a few comments on the team so far this season, and two first-half shout outs for two players on this team who deserve more credit than they get.
Most of the pundits predicted that the Habs would be outside of the playoff picture once again this season, and they couldn’t have been more wrong. On the back of some incredible team-wide play, Montreal has shown that last season was the anomaly.
Montreal ranks 4th in the league in goals per game, and 8th in the league in goals against per game. The Habs are 4th in the league at 5-on-5 play with a ratio of 1.33 goals scored for every 1 goal surrendered. The team has been very good at limiting shots against at even strength, limiting the opposition to an average of 27 shots per 60 minutes played at even strength (*note that this is different than simply measuring shots against per game). Even though Montreal only has one player in the top 40 scorers of the NHL (Max Pacioretty – 20 pts in 20 gp), the balanced attack has been bolstered by incredible two-way play by players like Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust (+13!), Brendan Gallagher, and Lars Eller.
Speaking of Eller, I’ve always been a big fan of the big Dane’s game, and so I feel compelled to give him a first-half shout out. Eller is an interesting player, because the advanced statistics love his game, while many who use traditional stats don’t see him as quite so valuable. When you measure Eller against his teammates in terms of Quality of Competition, Offensive Zone Starts, Corsi (a proxi stat for puck possession) etc, Eller appears at or near the top of the team in all categories, showing the skill needed to win the puck and keep it, as well as the trust of the coaching staff – to use him in high-leverage situations like defensive faceoffs. But still, its important to recognize that Eller has also taken a step forward this year in terms of the traditional optics of the game. He’s currently 1 point behind David Desharnais, and Tomas Plekanec in scoring, and of the 3 top 9 centres, he’s the only one above 50% in faceoff wins (51%). Certainly he still has room to grow as a 23 year old player just starting to get the type of ice time that could lead him to become an established NHLer, but Eller has become a valuable contributor to this team and I’m pleased to see that Montreal has a solid young corps of players driving their success.
The other player that I want to give a first-half shout out to is PK Subban. This year more than any other in the past, PK has been a lightning rod of bull-crap from around the league’s media. Reports at the beginning of the year raised all kinds of falsehoods about PK as a person, player and teammate. All he’s done since his contract was signed is prove every single doubter wrong. PK is currently 8th in the league in scoring for defenseman, having played as many as 7 less games than most of his competitors. Further on that point, most of the players he trails have amassed their points as assists. Only Brian Campbell and Alex Pietrangelo are ahead of him with more than 3 goals. Subban is tied for the lead in goals with Campbell, who has played 6 more games at this point in the season. You won’t hear the media give PK credit for any of this of course, because the narrative of him being a trouble-maker is far more valuable to the lazy writers who cover the sport. But I for one am willing to applaud the guy for some fantastic work since he has returned. The talk before the season was that PK might not be worth “elite” money yet, but as is completely plain to anyone willing to look at this point – PK Subban is an elite defenseman in the NHL at 23 years old.
Go Habs Go!!