“There’s two factors (on the 1-5-2 season start)….. Carey wasn’t playing like he’s being playing and the special teams have been the main difference. You look at (Price’s) save percentage in the first part of the season versus now. And also our special teams have been better and we’ve been better away from the puck as well.” Jacques Martin on the Canadiens improvement over the last twelve games.
The Stats Back Martin.
Carey. Through his first seven starts of the season Price’s save percentage was .878. His last ten starts it’s .942. (15 goals on 263 shots) Overall it’s now at .917. In his last ten starts Price has allowed only 15 goals for a 1.49 goals-agaisnt-average.
The Special Teams. The Penalty Killers have been really spectacular. They’ve given up one goal while shorthanded in the last 43 times shorthanded over eleven games dating back to October 27th in Boston. That lone goal was on a 5-on-3 at Madison Square Garden that should never have happened. As a result the Canadiens have risen from 19th in the league to third. The power play still isn’t scaring too many people but they were ranked 29th in the league after eight games. With the two power play goals against the Rangers last night they’re now 19th.
Getting Off Easy – Scott Gomez is everyone’s favourite whipping boy from the media right on down to the casual fan. Hockey Night in Canada spent a great deal of time flogging his lack of productivity even as he was in the process of logging two assists and producing four personal scoring chances. The question I have is – in a crowd atmosphere that can at best, be described as “volatile”, why has Gomez not been booed at the Bell Centre? I don’t have a definitive answer except, Gomez’ work ethic seems to negate any excuse for the fans to treat him the way for instance, they did Patrice Brisebois.
The Missing Link – The Canadiens were a two-line offensive hockey team last season. First and foremost on Pierre Gauthier’s shopping list was a big forward, preferably a righthand shot who had some goalscoring skills. He paid a lot of money but he landed his man in Erik Cole. After an eight game adjustment period, Cole has been on fire. In his last 12 games Cole leads the team with 37 scoring chances. He has five goals to show for it. With Eller and Gomez together on a third line, even with the injury to Kostitsyn, the Canadiens, seem to be able to put three dangerous units on the ice for the first time in three years.
Taking Their Chances – Over the last 12 games, Max Pacioretty has 7 goals on 23 chances. Brian Gionta with 4 goals on 21 and Plekanec with 3 goals on 12. Michael Cammalleri, may not be in Scott Gomez territory , but he’s been in a slump during the Canadiens 8-3-1 run with one goal on 34 scoring chances. All that can be said about that is — he’s due to break out.
The Pipeline Is Dry -If the Canadiens injury list gets any longer, don’t count on the Hamilton Bulldogs to provide much help. The Canadiens already have Aaron Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist and Frederic St. Denis up. Outside of recently re-assigned Michael Blunden, the best players left on the Hamilton active roster are Alexander Avtsin, Louis Leblanc and Dany Masse all of whom look a year away from contributing in the NHL. Their best defenseman Brendon Nash is out for most of the season after training camp shoulder surgery. It’s not that the cupboard is bare. There’s some pretty good potential still in the amateur ranks including Danny Kristo, Mac Bennett in US college and the juniors Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Brendon Gallagher.
Speaking of injuries – Something should be said about the way the Canadiens have played with the injury load they’ve had to bear. Against the Bruins the Canadiens will go over the 100 mark for man-games lost to injury this season and the season is only at the quarter pole. Through it all the Canadiens are winning and they’re over .500. The two teams that are worse off than the Canadiens, Winnipeg and Columbus are 24th and 30th in the overall standings.
How important have the Bulldogs been? Over the last five years they have sent the Canadiens potential all-stars Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban along with assets like Ryan O’Byrne, Yannick Weber, David Desharnais, Ryan White, Matt D’Agostini, both Kostitsyn brothers, Mikhal Grabovski, Maxim Lapierre, Tom Pyatt and recently Frederic St. Denis and Aaron Palushaj.
Nice Problem To Have – Eventually Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill will rejoin the Canadiens lineup. Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin must then sit down and figure out what they’re going to do with Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin and Frederic St. Denis. One factor that will creep into the decision making process is next year’s unrestricted free agent list which will include Spacek, Gill and Josh Gorges. Two of the three are likely going to move on and it’s comforting to know there are potential replacements close to home.
It Doesn’t Get Easier – After a four game week in which the Canadiens took five of eight possible points, another four game week. Boston Monday at the Bell Centre followed by games in Carolina and Philadelphia and then home to Pittsburgh next Saturday.
The scoring chances — cole should be scoring more.