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First Quarter & Change Report: Montreal Canadiens

To quote sir Isaac Newton (I assume): “What goes up must come down.” Such is the case with the Montreal Canadiens who sky rocketed out of the gate before being marred in a slump. This downward spiral cost Claude Julien and Kirk Muller their jobs and leaves the Habs future unclear at the moment.

Before getting started, don’t forget to check out the previous segments as we take a look at the entire Canadian division.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Ottawa Senators
Calgary Flames
Edmonton Oilers
Vancouver Canucks
Winnipeg Jets

FORWARD

Let’s start with the good, the off season acquisitions have led the charge for this team. Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson have combined for roughly 44% of the goals from the forwards. Both have provided this team with the depth it so desperately needed at the top of the line up. To steal a quote from the guys over at the Drive for 25 Podcast, they have allowed the rest of the Habs forwards to slot into the proper roles on the roster.

Anderson has fit in perfectly, rarely taking a shift off for this team. Anderson with Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin have been the Habs best line on most nights. Drouin still pulls a vanishing act every once in a while, but this has been the most consistent effort level I have ever seen from him. He seems to be picking up momentum as the season progresses and I pray that he continues this play.

Suzuki has been on a incredible upward trajectory since joining the big club last year. He is going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment but so is the entire team. He began the season with points in seven straight and 11 points in his first 10 games. He has two points in eight games since, however it is far too early to call it a sophmore slump.

Brendan Gallagher has been Brendan Gallgher. He is not getting the same valuable minutes in all situations so his point totals have taken a hit. His overall game on the other hand has yet to skip a beat. If only his usual line mates could follow suit. Tatar has led the team in points for the last two season, however his rough start to the season has seen him watch a game from the Press Box.

The bigger issue has been the disappearance of Phillip Danault. The narrative around Danault, his contract and his role on this team in the short and long term have been scrutinized from every angle. Making matters worse, he has decided to gamble on himself this season and things are going epically awful. He is clearly in his own head and him regaining his form could drastically change the Habs fortunes.

Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron round out the group of returning forwards struggling this season. All have been inconsistent this season while adjusting to their new roles on the team. Having all three players in the teams bottom six is a testament to the depth up front, but they will need to provide more secondary scoring if this team hopes to get back on track.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi continues to gradually improve. His play has been inconsistent this season, however there has been noticeable improvement in his game. I love watching him develop a gritty, pest aspect to his game and I hope that he continues to play with Perry.

Corey Perry is in the twilight of his career, but he is probably the only player the Habs have who has been able to carry this team through some dark times. Perry is an established vet with a baseline level on play that he brings to the table every night.

Last but not least, Jake Evans has quietly gone about his business. He has accepted his role as a 4th line Center, playing a defensive responsible game while putting up a couple points in the process. Evans is a personal favourite because he is the former Captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and I love that he has become a full time member of this team!

DEFENSEMAN

Stats provided by NHL.com

Bergevin went completely against the grain when putting together this defense core. This group seems to be a two year plan as they try to protect themselves against the expansion draft. With that being said, for a defense core that was built on size, it was a bit surprising to see the Habs acquire more size.

Joel Edmunson fits the scheme the Habs like to play on defense. Carey Price is the best goalie in the league at stopping opposing Dump In attempts. I don’t have any stats to back this up, but I would be willing to bet that he has one of the highest successful breakout rates in the NHL.

With that in mind, I think that Bergevin prefers strong and agressive defenseman. The Habs have a group that like to stand up the opposing team at the Blue Line to force Dump Ins to Price.

Jeff Petry is proving that Bergevin was right to invest in him with a long term contract. When the Habs were at their peak to start the season, Petry was on a Norris-type pace. He started the season with 13 points in 10 games, but has since been the victim of a team that has stalled.

The top pairing of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot has struggled this season after a monstrous Return to Play in August. Weber started off the year playing some pretty bad hockey, but he has since found his fire. His game against Ottawa may have been his best of the season and he looks pissed off in general. That’s a good thing.

Ben Chiarot has struggled mightily this season. He seems to be trying to do too much to compensate for his sub par play. I honestly think less is more for him and I love his physical edge, and his willingness to step up and fight. However, he seems to be seeking out contact rather than letting it come to him.

Kulak continues to be sneaky effective, and his confidence to join the rush is nice. He has split time with Victor Mete this season despite Kulak playing a larger chunk of games. Mete has provided a bit of an offensive spark as he has never been shy to join the rush. He was a perfect fit in Julien’s style of play that overloads one side and drives play along the boards with the defender providing support down the middle. The problem is that this is all he really brings to the table.

Rookie Alexander Romanov, has by all accounts had a strong start to the season. Due to all the pre-season hype people seem to forget he is a rookie that will need some time to develop and adjust to the NHL game.

Romanov has played good hockey. He has had to face some adversity and his response has been encouraging. Far from perfect, but very encouraging. He has no fear playing physical and his insertion into the Power Play to start the season shows the confidence the team has in him.

GOALTENDERS

Stats provided by NHL.com

The vultures are out as you would expect. It amazes me how quickly people turn on Carey Price and immediately discredit him as washed up. Is he playing good right now? F*** no.

Price‘s issues are clearly mental. He is changing up his equipment far too much, trying to figure out his game and get back on track. He has had a couple of vintage Carey games, but he has also let in his fair share of muffins.

The Tkachuk tying goal in their last game against Ottawa is all you need to see to show that Price‘s confidence is low. Price‘s calling card has always been his perfect form and ability to square himself to the shooter. His pads were literally on the ice, not even in a standard butterfly position, looking more like the form of a Pee-wee goalie.

This is not the Price fans expected, nor do I think this will be the level of play we see from him all season. It is fair to say he has not played well or even remotely up to par. However there is a 0% chance that I will call him washed up. He carried significantly worse roster’s to much better results.

As for Jake Allen, there are not enough good things to say about his play so far. Even in the midst of a complete tail spin for the entire team, Allen has been a rock. He has lived up to every expectation that this fan base hoped for. Again, just like with the rest of the roster, the new guy is showing up.

If and hopefully when the Habs find their game, Allen’s play in the early part of the year may be what saves this team’s season.

OVERALL GRADE: B-

The Habs may be the hardest team to grade in the entire division. Their start to the season had many people across the hockey world prematurely calling them Cup contenders. For a minute let’s remember that last season Habs fans were clamouring for the First Overall pick.

A change behind the bench could be the spark this team needs. I love Claude but he failed to bring anything new to the table this year and this roster on paper has too much talent to be a .500 team.

The Habs will desperately look to get their Power Play going under Dominique Ducharme among a long list of other issues. Another top priority is to get Phillip Danault going again, his lack of production has been a major hit to this top 9.

Getting Carey Price going as well is a no brainer but I don’t really think there is much that a coaching change can do here. I know a lot of people want him to sit and it’s hard to argue that he has not deserved it. Allen has outplayed him for pretty much the entire season, but I would personally let Price ride this out.

He is not a goalie who runs from the net after letting in 5. He’s a guy who wants to wallow in his own filth because it’s what he deserves. He wants to see the fight out until the end with the boys, so let him.

Sticking with the Montreal sports scene, check out our latest interview where Peeze, Terry and Eagle sit down with former Montreal Expos, Executive Vice President David P Samson to discuss all things Montreal Expos.

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