Did you know the Habs finished two points out of a playoff spot last year? I sure didn’t. Considering all the noise they make and all the complaining they do that you have to pay attention to them because of HISTORY and CULTURE (that being that they speak the French language like they’ve had an aluminum bat taken to their cranium, I guess), that’s probably the quietest Canadiens season in history. They certainly are more loud when they just plain suck because of what a travesty of justice that is. But when they simply fade into the background…well, that’s rare. We should cherish it. And it could happen again.
44-30-8 96 points (4th in Atlantic)
3.00 GF/G (14th) 2.88 GA/G (13th) +10 GD
54.4 CF% (3rd) 54.6 xGF% (3rd)
13.2 PP% (30th) 80.9 PK% (13th)
Goalies: As it has been, as it will be, Carey Price takes the torture chamber that is the Montreal crease. It all begins and ends with him, which means any talking point about the Habs in La Belle Province has a 75% chance of being about him. At this point he must be used to it or totally deaf. Price was healthy last year, which was something of an upset, and he was…fine? A .918 in last year’s heightened scoring environment is better than it originally looks, but not up to the standard Price himself has set. It was also the second consecutive season he wasn’t up above .920, which is what the Habs are paying for with the $10M a year Price gets from here until AOC is on her second term in the White House.
At 32, there’s little to no reason to think Price is past it, other than maybe the higher-than-usual odometer reading thanks to his debut at a precocious age. The days of him putting up .930+ SV%s are over, but the Canadiens shouldn’t need that either. Price should be around .920 minimum, and another sustained season of health could see him creep up to .925 or higher which gets him back in the Vezina discussion, a place he used to call home. There are few goalies you’d take ahead of him if you needed to have a game to save your dog, that’s for sure, despite Pat Foley’s and drunken Hawks fan declarations that Corey Crawford is better.
Backing him up will be Keith Kinkaid, which as a backup is about as solid as you can get. He bailed out Corey Schneider in New Jersey for a couple years when Schneider’s body was turning into decommissioned flubber, though he himself was on one last year at .891. The two years before that were .913 and .916 though, and he definitely gives you representative-plus goaltending from the #2 spot. This is just about a question mark-less position for the Habs. Which they need, because everywhere else has more than a few.
Defense: As we tour the skaters of Montreal, you’ll notice they don’t have a frontline player in either spot. There’s no genuine top-pairing defensemen here, and really no genuine top line forward either. They are going to try and do it with faded stars, foot soldiers, or didn’t-quite-get-theres. I’m contractually obligated to tell you they think Shea Weber is still a top man, but injuries and time have eroded whatever mobility he had. Stand him up and give him time and he still has a doomsday gun of a shot, but that didn’t help their anemic power play much last year in the rare times he was actually upright.
They signed Ben Chiarot from Winnipeg, except no one has ever pointed out whatever it was Chiarot did with the Jets that’s supposed to make me shorts get tight. Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak are serviceable puck-movers down the lineup, and Jordie Benn has a beard. Victor Mete had a rough go in his first full go-around in the league but is the real promise on the squad here, if Claude Julien doesn’t have him racked in Victoria Square.
There’s just not that much special here, which makes their glittering metrics all the more shocking. The forwards once again will have to do most of the work in transition, which affects how much they can finish, as you’ll see…
Forwards: Again, no frontline talent. The Canadiens would love to argue that Max Domi is, but that would be the definition of pissing in my ear. He’s fine, he’s a good rhythm guitarist but not a lead. Jonathan Drouin has had every chance in the world now to prove all the hype he got and bed-wetting he did were worth it, and he hasn’t yet. Brendan Gallagher is a highly effective forechecker/net front pest/garbage-goal getter, but that’s it. Domi led this team with 72 points. Tomas Tatar was the second-leading scorer. When Tomas Tatar is among your leading scorers, that makes you the Red Wings of four or five years ago. And where did that get them? Face in the dirt, that’s what.
And the Habs haven’t really done anything to improve it this year. Ryan Poehling looks sure to be on the team, and Nick Suzuki just might, but to expect them to carry the flag…er, torch…sorry, hate to insult your tiring hands you pompous fuckwits, is beyond ambitious. We love Phillip Danault around here, but he’s a checking center who should chip in scoring. Not the engine of your second line. That’s what he has to be on this team.
The hope would be that Jesperi Kotkaniemi has an offensive leap in him at 20 to go along with his already stellar 200-foot game. And maybe he does, but again, that’s pinning hopes on a 20-year-old.
Still, as mentioned above, the Habs were able to carry some very impressive underlying numbers last year. They did that because even if the forwards aren’t blessed with dash and finish, they are with speed. All four lines here can really go, so they can pressure everywhere on the ice, help out their d-men deep in their zone and still get up to the offensive end. That leaves them pretty tired, and it doesn’t do a lot when you’re creating attempts and chances that you don’t have a lot of finish to make count. But if they can match those metrics again and get a slice of luck, maybe they could find the extra points they need to make the playoffs.
Prediction: They’re in the wrong division. It’s hard to see where they’re going to make up ground on any of Toronto, Boston, or Tampa, which leaves them scrapping for a wildcard. Luckily, there isn’t much impressive in the other division, and Columbus’s spot is certainly going to be marked available. Any bump up from Price, or an unforeseen SH% spike from a forward or two and the Habs could get there. Or their aging defense can’t be held up by Price, and the forwards can’t do most of the work again and they’ll miss by a lot.
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