The Montreal Canadiens are, once again, up to a very good start to this season. As a matter of fact, they have become the first team in NHL history to win seven of their first eight games in three consecutive seasons. While pundits where quietly hoping that they would go a nose dive after trading P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, the Canadiens have taken flight… so far.
As history has taught us, as recently as last season, a hot start does not make a season as no Stanley Cup has ever been handed out in October. This also means that through the trained eye, one can notice that there are some weaknesses that need to be addressed before it comes back to haunt the team.
Unlike last season, the goaltending depth is just fine as Al Montoya is providing all the Habs could ask (and more). In four games this season, including the first three of the season when Carey Price was down to the flu, Montoya is 3-0-1 with a goals against average of 1.47 and a saves percentage of .955!
The defense is also excellent, led by… you know who? Yes, Shea Weber has accumulated nine (9) points in his first eight (8) games with his new team. He leads the NHL with a differential of plus -12 while being one of the league’s most utilised player with just under 26 minutes of ice time per game. Jeff Petry coming back healthy has added a key element to the defensive corp while Alexei Emelin is having perhaps his best start since joining the Canadiens.
Centre of attention
The one area where Michel Therrien‘s team seems particularly vulnerable is up the middle. Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Torrey Mitchell have played at centre for most of the season thus far and off those, Galchenyuk and Mitchell have shown the most consistency. It seems like we’re re-writing an old story as we touched on that topic before, but if some wingers aren’t having a great start offensively, it starts up the middle.
Galchenyuk has six points in eight games so far, which is pretty good. But as a centreman, he is taking faceoffs and in the faceoff circle, he’s losing more than 70% of the draws, worst amongst Habs’ pivots. No need to explain that when you start without the puck, you’re then chasing the play and giving your opponents some key possession time.
The best on faceoffs is Torrey Mitchell with a success rate of 59.5%, which isn’t without explaining the success the Canadiens’ fourth line is having so far this season. They are fast, defensively reliable and they are creating scoring chances as they start with the puck more often than not.
David Desharnais, who is winning draws at a rate of 54.5% comes third, which is well above his career average so far. However, he only has four points this season and, once again, seems to disappear for periods of time while being too easily being pushed off the puck. Perhaps if Dale Weise is speaking on behalf of his GM, the Flyers would be interested in getting him?
Last but not least, veteran Tomas Plekanec is having a slow start to the season offensively. He only has three assists to show for in his first eight games, with a faceoffs’ percentage of 47.7%. What’s most concerning is that he is the most utilised centre by Michel Therrien, averaging 17:31 of ice time per game.
If the Canadiens want to improve somewhere, yes, a top-6 left winger would be nice (although Artturi Lehkonen is showing progress), but a top-end centreman might be even more beneficial to the team. There are teams out there not having a good start to the season who might consider a swap of centremen and Marc Bergevin seems to like those November deals and he has done quite well with them.