Top Cheese: March 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as they are getting set for the final push of the regular season, including three games against the Ottawa Senators. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

The Montreal Canadiens are entering the last stretch of their schedule one point ahead of the surging Ottawa Senators, who now only have one game in hand on Claude Julien‘s team. As a matter of fact, in spite of Montreal’s trouble in the second half of the season, it is interesting to note that the Habs have occupied the top spot in the Atlantic division all season long, with the exception of about 24 hours a few days ago, when the Sens were tied in points but had games in hand on them.

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The good news for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge is that they have the most favourable schedule in the final stretch. The strongest team that they will have to face are those Senators. Every other team is weaker and well below them in the standings. Here’s what the Habs’ schedule looks like down the stretch:

HabsSched

Further, two of the three games against the Sens will be in Montreal and seven of the Canadiens’ last 12 games will be at the Bell Centre, where they have last change.

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The Senators, on the other hand, have a much tougher schedule. They will have to face the Bruins twice, the Penguins, the Wild and the Rangers, all tough match-ups for them.

Sens

Only four of their last 13 games will be played in Ottawa, the other nine on the road.

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Much is being said about Alexander Radulov‘s contract demands but the fact remains that those are just rumours and even if they were not, they are simply a starting point for contract negotiations. So apparent reports that he would be seeking an eight-year contract shouldn’t even be in the minds of Habs’ fans at this point. I personally have little doubt that “Radulove” will re-sign with the Canadiens. He wanted to play in Montreal and he has. He loves the City and the fans and it clearly shows. I would personally see him sign a 3-4 year contract but that might be unrealistic. Marc Bergevin might have to go five years to keep him in Montreal. The dollar amount, I leave that to management.

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Andrei Markov stated that he would like to play his 1,000 game in a Habs’ uniform but that he doesn’t want to talk contract until the end of the season. I personally like that. The veteran probably wants to see how he feels after the season to decide how many years he wants to keep playing. Markov had a difficult season off the ice, his ex-wife passing away and having to fly to Russia to pick up his twin sons to bring them to Montreal. It is my hope that he chooses, from now on, to sign one-year contracts until both sides decide that he should hang up the skates. There is no doubt however that he can still help the team.

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While Philip Danault is having a breakthrough season, is there really a better story than Paul Byron‘s? The diminutive player came this close to playing in the AHL when the Calgary Flames put him on waivers last season, before being claimed by Bergevin and the Canadiens. He played well for the Habs down the stretch last year and this season, he already has 19 goals in 69 games, which makes puts him second in goals’ scored on the team! Further, “Ti-Paul” has more goals this season than Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews, Taylor Hall, Patrice Bergeron, Matt Duchene, Jonathan Drouin, Zach Parise, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Henrik Zetterberg, Johnny Gaudreau and Jordan Eberle, just to name a few. Who would have thought?

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Carey Price certainly has found his game and he’s making his new coach look brilliant. Since Claude Julien took over as head coach on February 14th, Price is back to his multi-award winning season’s form. In the 10 games that he has played in, he has stopped 258 of the 279 shots against him, for a .945 saves percentage, while keeping a goals against average around the 1.50 mark. He has allowed more than two goals only once, against Chicago, who managed to get three past Price. If you compare that to his performances from mid-December to the time Michel Therrien was fired, you can better understand why the Canadiens are winning games now that they were loosing then.

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While the goals’ against have been resolved, it certainly looks like it has come at the expense of offense. Since Julien has taken over, the Canadiens have scored 25 goals in 12 games, which averages to 2.08 goals per game. If you look at the whole picture, it’s worse than that. Consider that four of those goals came in overtime and two were empty net goals, this means that the Canadiens, under Julien, have only scored 19 goals in 12 games in regulation when the opposing goalie was in net. That’s 1.58 goals per 60-minute games! So while Bergevin has not been able to add some much needed offense to his team, they were scoring a lot more goals under Therrien than they have been under Julien… so far. Here’s hoping that Claude can find a fix for that problem, otherwise it might be an early exit in the playoffs.

 

 

 

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