Top Cheese: December 2017 Edition

TopCheese

Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the Christmas break is approaching and the team finds itself in a bind for a playoffs’ position. Feel free to share on Social Media and post your comments as they are always welcomed.

We can all admit, things aren’t looking good for the Canadiens in their pursue of a playoffs’ spot. They find themselves three points back of the Boston Bruins, who still have three games in hand on the Habs, for the third and final spot in the division. They are five points back of the New York Rangers for the last Wild Card spot, and they have to leap-frog Carolina, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to get there.

While the odds are against them, there is still hope but the team will have to string a few winning streaks soon, very soon, if they hope to participate in the Spring tournament. The fanbase seems divided with some wishing them to sell immediately in hope for a better chance at getting the first overall pick while others, like yours truly, will never give up hope until it’s practically over. With a world-class goaltender like Price, making the playoffs should, in my opinion, be the number one priority as once you’re in, you never know. Just ask last year’s Nashville Predators…

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Speaking of goaltenders, as Carey Price goes, so do the Habs. This season, Price has played 19 games and he has a record of 8-9-2, with a 3.16 goals against average and a .899 saves percentage. Those numbers are well below what people should expect from him, and no one knows it better than Price himself. Here’s a breakdown of the goaltender’s performances in his wins, in comparison to his losses:

WINS

DETROIT 1 G 23 SA .957 Sv%
DETROIT 3 G 31 SA .903 Sv%
OTTAWA 1 G 28 SA .964 Sv%
COLUMBUS 1 G 38 SA .974 Sv%
BUFFALO 0 G 36 SA 1.000 Sv%
NY RANGERS 4 G 26 SA .846 Sv%
FLORIDA 1 G 27 SA .963 Sv%
BUFFALO 2 G 45 SA .956 Sv%
TOTAL: 13 G 254 SA .949 Sv%

LOSSES

EDMONTON 4 G 14 SA .714 Sv%
CALGARY 3 G 37 SA .919 Sv%
ST. LOUIS 4 G 30 SA .867 Sv%
MINNESOTA 5 G 26 SA .808 Sv%
LOS ANGELES 4 G 28 SA .857 Sv%
ANAHEIM 6 G 45 SA .867 Sv%
SAN JOSE 4 G 34 SA .882 Sv%
TORONTO 4 G 22 SA .818 Sv%
CHICAGO 3 G 25 SA .880 Sv%
NY RANGERS 2 G 25 SA .920 Sv%
WASHINGTON 4 G 14 SA .714 Sv%
TOTAL: 43 GA 300 SA .857 Sv%

Pundits like to pounce on Bergevin and the Habs at any chance they get but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we will recognize and admit that not many teams in today’s NHL will win games when their goaltender has a saves percentage below .900… particularly not when he’s your franchise player.

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As Kari Lehtonen reached the 300 wins plateau, The Hockey News released a list of the Top-10 active goaltenders with the most wins.

 

But I would like to add a twist to it, by including the age of each goaltender. Have a look:

  1. Luongo (38) FLA 459
  2. Lundqvist (35) NYR 419
  3. Fleury (33) VEG 378
  4. Miller (37) ANA 361
  5. Ward (33) CAR 300
  6. Lehtonen (34) DAL 299
  7. Rinne (35) NSH 285
  8. Price (30) MTL 278
  9. Quick (31) LA 275
  10. Anderson (36) OTT 245
 Also, if or when you chose to compare the number of wins by goaltenders with the all-time greats, don’t forget that the players mentioned above all benefited greatly from the overtime and shootout wins, something their predecessors didn’t, for the most part.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock and had yet to notice, the witch hunt is full on by some fans and members of the media to get Canadiens’ General Manager’s Marc Bergevin‘s head cut off. But someone dared posting Bergevin’s win/losses record, and found an interesting way to look at the trades that he’s pulled since he was made in charge of the team.

Oh he’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong, but if you show me a perfect GM or coach, I will show you a liar.

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In response to the people who have been calling for the firing of the Habs’ GM, Canadiens’ owner Geoff Molson said that Marc Bergevin has his full support.

“We’ve got some room on the cap, and you never know what he might do or might not do,” said Molson. “He certainly does have the license to improve the team, and that’s his job. I support him fully.”

This might have to do with the fact that he, like other reasonable hockey men around the NHL, understands what @HankBart91 pointed out and that he is still very much respected around the league. Fans can kick, scream and have a temper tantrum all they want, Bergevin’s job is safe until at least the end of the season.

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There are plenty of rumours going around and as we’ve explored in a recent article, the Habs Are Not Alone Looking For A Forward. That being said, Bergevin is still looking at filling the hole on the team’s top defensive pairing, a suitable partner to Shea Weber.

One interesting rumour going around is the supposedly interest from Bergevin towards another former Chicago Blackhawks, puck moving defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Oh he won’t be putting up points on the board, but he is a very good skater with good size and an excellent defender. He can also easily log-in 20-25 minutes of ice time. One has to wonder if Bergevin is talking to the Coyotes about Hjalmarsson, if the name of local product, 22 year-old Anthony Duclair, is part of it… To be followed.

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The Canadiens have announced that they were loaning defenseman Victor Mete to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships over the Christmas break. Most fans and media members are in agreement that the decision is a good one for the development of the 19 year-old.

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Victor Mete

While he played over 20 minutes per game in four consecutive games back in mid-October, Mete’s ice time has diminished since then and he’s been a healthy scratch a few times as well. He has even played forward one game in mid-November. This tournament should do wonders for him, playing quality minutes at a very high and intense level of hockey.

Where fans and media are not necessarily in agreement, is if he should return to Montreal or be sent back to junior after the tournament. The Canadiens have made no announcements about it yet, as it is doubtful that they know at this point. A lot of it might have to do with where the team will be in the standings, injuries and player movement (trades, waivers…).

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It will be interesting to see what the Canadiens do with puzzling forward Alex Galchenyuk in the near future. The enigmatic and talented forward has not been a shadow of his old self since his injury early last season and while many were blaming former coach Michel Therrien for his utilization of Galchenyuk, it seems like he’s finding himself in a second coach’s dog house with Claude Julien. At some point, people will have to stop blaming the coaches and see the whole picture about the young forward. His lack of effort is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why he’s not getting more suitable ice time in the NHL and that’s solely in his own hands.

Will he understand that one day soon, or will the Canadiens lose patience with him first? Time will tell. He still has some value on the trade market because he’s under contract for a couple more seasons and he’s not that far removed from a 30 goals’ season. Let’s hope for the Canadiens that he finds his game as they need offense and Galchenyuk would go a long way in providing just that.

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While Mikhail Sergachev is making a name for himself in Tampa Bay, Jonathan Drouin is battling through injuries and trying to learn a new position as a NHL centre. Bergevin’s failure, this past summer, was to be unable to address the team’s biggest need: a true top-end centre.

Drouin has been good under the circumstance but as it stands today, it looks like the Lightning has the upper hand on this deal. But be careful folks, don’t jump to conclusions too soon. At 14:55 minutes per game, Sergachev is sixth amongst Tampa’s defensemen in ice time, with 1:50 of which coming on the powerplay. Ten (10) of his 21 points also came on the powerplay so that doesn’t (yet) speak of a top-pairing defenseman, folks.

The support cast for both players is also quite different. Put Drouin with the Lightning and Sergachev with the Canadiens and it’s pretty safe to say that the numbers wouldn’t be anywhere close to what they are right now and that, for both players. Let’s give it a couple of years before jumping to that conclusion, shall we? In the meantime… Go Habs Go!!!

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Habs’ Plans: Now What?

Grit

When the Montreal Canadiens got up to a slow start this, while seeing Carey Price not being himself in net and the team being unable to score and to defend, many people like yours truly were preaching for patience. After all, when was the last time that the Stanley Cup was ever won in October or November? Thankfully for us, the team did manage to get back on track after their California trip by winning seven of their next 10 games, all without Price who suffered an undisclosed injury. Then came this past week… 

After a heartbreaking loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets who, let’s be honest here, had no business of winning as Sergei Bobrovsky literally stole the game for his team, Claude Julien‘s team looked absolutely brutal two games in a row, resulting in one single point in three games this week. While the offense was present against the Arizona Coyotes, the defensive play was worth Pee-wee aged players, as did the goaltending, and it didn’t get any better against Toronto on Saturday. And no folks, we’re not only talking about the defensemen here. The forwards had more turnovers than the Pillsbury Doughboy in the last two games!

This past week’s results saw the Canadiens slide all the way down to 14th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference standings, and only four teams in the NHL have a worse record that the Habs. Having allowed 23 more goals than they have scored, Julien’s team can thank the Coyotes’ dismal season to prevent them from being the worst in the NHL in that department. As a matter of fact, the last time that the Canadiens perform that badly, a guy by the name of Carey Price only played 12 games that season. Yet that year, those blaming the Shea Weber trade for this year’s misery tend to forget that they had a guy by the name of P.K. Subban in their line-up back then.

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Claude Julien is running out of options

Now what? 

Don’t go all ape-crap on Marc Bergevin here. The Jonathan Drouin for Sergachev was a good trade, for both teams. But no matter what the reasons, the Canadiens’ GM made two crucial mistakes this summer:

  1. He never addressed the centre position in spite of having plenty of cap space to do so.
  2. Losing Markov and Radulov and not replacing them simply could not happen.

So while Drouin has performed well while getting used to a new position at centre, that simply wasn’t enough to support and improve on a team already thin at that position and offensively challenged.

According to Capfriendly.com, Bergevin now has over $7 million in cap space available at the time of writing these lines. The problem that he’s facing is that the demand is higher than the supply, which means that finding an immediate solution will be extremely difficult through trades… and the price is going to be very high.

The reality of the situation is that Bergevin has painted himself into a corner with no way out, unless the players he put together start performing as they were expected to perform, allowing the paint to dry. If they can stay in the race until trade deadline, then Bergevin might be able to make a big move with the cap space available. But will it be too late?

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Jason Spezza

Jason Spezza 

Please stop with the Spezza rumours in Montreal as that train has passed last year already. This season, he’s having a horrible season and has been moved to the wing on a team struggling to meet expectations. With one more year at $7.8 million cap hit after this season, it would be shocking to see Bergevin tie his own hands when this summer’s free agency looks very promising, including a guy by the name of John Tavares. But then, why would Tavares pick the Habs… unless the players in place turn things around?

Do you see a pattern here? Go Habs Go!