In part one of Plus/Minus, I reviewed the Canadiens’ defense and goaltending so far. Granted, it is only five games into the season, but there have been a lot of good and bad things that we have seen from the Habs over that period.
Today, in part two, I will review the good and the bad of the Canadiens’ forward corp and special teams.
So, without further ado, here are the details!
-Line numbers aside—since people tend to interchange line one and two—the Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn trio has been the Canadiens most effective offensive combo to date. They total a combined 12 points (six goals, six assists) and a plus-8 rating over the five games played.
Plekanec is leading the way with five points (two goals, three assists), a plus-one rating, and a team leading (for forwards) average time on ice of 21:19.
Plekanec is Jacques Martin’s go-to guy and plays in all situations whether even strength or short handed. In addition, he is tied for the team lead with two goals, and is second among regular centers with a 52.89% faceoff win percentage. This is one guy who is being buoyed, not weighed down, by his big ticket contract.
His linemates too are playing some of the best hockey of their careers.
While Cammalleri’s three points (two goals, one assist) and brilliant plus-five rating are to be expected from the team’s number one sniper, Kostitsyn’s performance is a different story.
Averaging 15:46 of ice-time, AK46 is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Not only does he have four points (two goals, two assists) and a plus-one rating over five games, but he is playing the type of game that made him the tenth overall selection in the 2003 NHL draft.
Kostitsyn is known for his quick release and blistering shot, but what he has failed to do over recent years is put in a consistent effort, night in and night out. So far this season, Kostitsyn looks like a man possessed using his speed and considerable size to bulldoze his way to the front of the net and score goals and create opportunities in the process.
Whether it is because his distraction of a brother in no longer in town, that this is a contract year for him, or for any other reason, AK46 is showing that he is a legitimate top-six forward. Moreover, is he keeps playing like this, expect him to break that so far elusive 30-goal barrier this year.
-While the Plekanec line has been scintillating, the Scott Gomez line has been anything but. Gomez himself seems to be the biggest problem on that line as his timing seems to be off. I don’t know if he is concealing an injury or is just not full in game mode, but that line has to get going in a hurry as the Canadiens won’t go very far with one top offensive line.
Gionta, to his credit, has been trying and leads all Canadiens shooters with 18 shots on goal. He got his first goal of the season in a home win against the Ottawa Senators on the weekend, and hopefully he can carry that momentum into tonight’s game against the Devils.
The third spot on that line is a rotating door that has been filled, at times, by Benoit Pouliot, Travis Moen, and others. Tonight, it is Tom Pyatt’s turn to audition for that spot. This line is a mess right now and needs to get sorted out in a hurry. I doubt that Tom Pyatt will be the answer and think that any of Maxim Lapierre, Ryan White, or Dustin Boyd would be great fits on that line, as all three have speed, grit and skill.
-The third line has been a solid contributor so far this season. Anchored by Jeff Halpern, who has three points (two goals, one assist) and is leading all regular centerman with a scintillating 58.93% faceoff win percentage, this line bring grit, skill, and a scoring touch.
If you’ll remember, one of the biggest problems the Canadiens had last year was that their third and fourth lines rarely scored goals. Well, so far it doesn’t look like the Canadiens will have the same problem this year as they have a much deeper and more skilled bottom-six.
Halpern’s wingers of late have been Lapierre and Lars Eller. Lapierre has picked up where he left off during the playoffs playing a fast, skilled, in-your-face game that drives the opposition crazy and accumulates points in the process.
Eller’s play has been up and down. Some game you notice him more than others but when you do notice him, he looks quite spectacular. His speed, skill, and size will make him into a formidable top-six forward. In the meantime, however, I think that if he is not going to play in his natural position—which is center—or get a shot in the top-six, then he should be playing in Hamilton.
-The Habs fourth line is doing exactly what they have to do through five games. Hitting, grinding, tiring out the opposition, and being reliable defensively. Comprised of a combination of Boyd, Pyatt, Pouliot, Moen and Mathieu Darche, this line has the ability to surprise the opposition with speed, skill, grit, and a tenacious forecheck. You can’t ask for much more out of a fourth line.
Pouliot, in particular, keeps getting his chances on the second line and while he has shown a few flashes or strong, tenacious play, he hasn’t been getting the job done. Playing him on the fourth line will do nothing for his confidence and won’t help him progress. You have to think that if things don’t change in a hurry, he could be on his way out of town by Christmas.
-The Canadiens special teams are like A Tale of Two Cities or Jekyll and Hyde. Where the penalty kill looks like the beautiful princess, the power play has seemed more like the ugly step-sister.
Clicking at a brilliantly effective 90% kill rate, the Canadiens’ penalty kill is currently tied for third overall in the league. Led by Plekanec and Halpern, the Habs have done a great job of keeping the opposition to the outside, cutting off passing lanes, and clearing rebounds. Their top-five ranked penalty kill is exactly where it needs to be if they are going to have a successful season.
-The power play, on the other hand, has scored one goal on 17 chances for a dismal 5.9% efficiency, dead last in the league.
Needless to say, this is just not good enough. While the upside is a considerable increase in five-on-five scoring versus last season, the Canadiens must get their power play clicking at around a 20%-plus level in order to be competitive this season
Martin has tried the duo of P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek as his number one power play defensive pairing but those two have not year had any success. Spacek in particular looks like he is the weaker link of the two.
Andrei Markov—who looks like he is about a week away from returning—cannot come back soon enough. This team is missing his vision and creativity from the back end. Not to mention his ability to find the open shooter and open up seems. The good news is that the Canadiens have been winning in his absence and without an effective power play, but that could change in a hurry.
As has been the case the last few seasons, the Canadiens need to have a top-five ranked power play in order to be competitive this season and they certainly have the ability to do so. Getting Markov back will not solve the whole problem, but it will definitely go a long way.