Things are looking up!
It is just past the one quarter mark of the season, and since my kids just came home with their report cards, I thought it a fitting time to give the Canadiens their respective grades.
Other than the individual player's marks, team aspects will also be given a going over.
At the beginning of the season, I had three burning questions about the Canadiens - all in the grand scheme of team concept and chemistry - that I felt would need to be answered positively in order for the Habs to have a successful season.
So far, so good - 2 out of 3 ain't bad!
The first - could the Canadiens adequately replace Sheldon Souray's prowess on the power play?
The second - would Alex Kovalev bounce back from a season in hell and show up determined to prove he was a committed player?
Last - could the Canadiens as a whole become a sturdier team in 5 on 5 play?
First up, I'll tackle some area's of team play.POWER PLAY:
Still the Habs most assured weapon. They have surprised and confounded many experts in continuing to have the leagues best PP. It is starting to look as though the Canadiens prowess here helped give Souray a career year, and not the other way around. A+PENALTY KILLING:
Could be much better. The Canadiens were 12th last time I checked, and should aim for the top 10 to be considered solid and dependable. Growing pains from breaking in new tandems in this role should be over soon. This aspect of the team's game is offset by the fact that they are taking less penalties. B5 ON 5 PLAY:
A sore spot still. It has improved gently over last season, but with the tendencies of certain players in place, it is unlikely to improve beyond the break even point. Unless the team chooses to go with a smothering trap system, this is how it will be for awhile. B-COACHING:
I feel Carbonneau has become a wiser coach with every lesson learned. He is not as stubborn as he was last season and seems more willing to understand things in a different light this year. More flexible and open minded, but no less unforgiving, he seems to have been able to convey certain messages more clearly in his second year. His constant preaching of discipline has paid off by consequence of a better behind the bench behavior. Perhaps some of his assuredness has translated into the team panicking less - disregarding when the opponant is Toronto or Ottawa! B+
Now, for the players in numerical order.6 Tom Kostopoulos:
Any player earning a nickname based on work ethic a whole ten games into the season has to be doing a lot of things right. "Tom The Bomb Nonstopoulos" is all about work, work, work. His efforts rarely translate onto the scoresheet, but his his 2 shorthanded goals have been big ones. Every team that wins, does so with a few players willing to do anything to win, including dropping the gloves with players who can pound you a new face. This guy's guts is inspiring. B8 Mike Komisarek:
Coming into his own. When a player starts earning comparisons to Scott Stevens, it can only be the start of a good thing. Komisarek is learning his various roles with zeal and enthusiasm. Among the league leaders in both hits and blocked shots, big Mike is carving himself a reputation that is making opposing forwards shrink and think twice when crossing the blueline or hangong around the net. Popping in a key goal or two, makes him unpredictable in all the right ways. A-11 Saku Koivu:
The soul of the team. Koivu is on pace for standard yearly numbers while still being suspect to short slumps. The weights he carries are large, team orientated ones. Beyond his leadership duties, he must score, shut down top lines, play both PP and some PK, and then answer for it all - nightly. Fans are always expecting more from him, without recognizing that he is giving it most nights. If one were to judge his first 21 games by the amount of scoring chances his wingers have gotten, perhaps the asinine criticism of him not being a capable top line center would cease. Saku always gives what he has. B+14 Tomas Plekanec:
Blooming as he should be. Plekanec is coming into his own as a center and has adapted better to his wingers game's this season. He can at times be the Habs best, if unheralded, two way player. If not this season, next season he will be a point per game player. B+20 Bryan Smolinski:
The jury is still out on this one. He has shown flashes of being a well rounded player, but it is countered with nights where he is just way off. While his inconsistency might have to do with the given opponant in a game, I still cannot put my finger on one glowing positive attribute of his game. Sometimes his size is used effectively - in other games he plays small. One night he'll rule on faceoff's - on another he's all zero's. Perhaps this frustrating guesswork is why he has been traded and moved so often. C+21 Chris Higgins:
Might well be the hardest working Hab in the first 21 games. In the attacking zone, Higgins has gotten more creative than before, at the detriment of using his linemates just a touch less. By far the Canadiens most prolific shooter, he is unfortunately it's most unluckiest. Playing hurt and never sparing any effort, Higgins has worn the "A" on his sweater with the seriousness of a veteran. A-22 Steve Begin:
Reminds me of Bruce Willis in the Die Hard flicks. Begin is a sparkplug pest that 29 other teams would love to have. He is the soul of a Habs fourth line that has given many opposing teams fits. Plays the shitster's role with love-it-to-death grin. B25 Mathieu Dandeneault:
Plaudits to him for taking on an unsung role and performing admirably well at times. While Dandeneault can be inspired to imitate the headfirstness of Begin and Kostopoulos, he does have shortcomings in the role in area's he can hardly be faulted for. While he usually gives it all he's got, this is one roster spot where the Habs need improving. B-26 Josh Gorges:
Tough to assess a player who has seen only a limited role. There are circumstances which have made Gorges a nervous fringe player on this team that are beyond his control. Gorges' play has often been a result of who he is playing against. He has had some moments where he looks assured, and others where panic obviously sets in. The thing to remember in his case in his age and upside. C+27 Alex Kovalev:
Rejuvenated is the only applicable word to describe what I feel has gone on in his case. Alex has played like a hurt man wishing for vindication. Obviously, some off season soul searching went on, because he reming me nothing off last season's calamity. He's been the Habs gamebreaker this season, and has shown committment in areas where he's not usually found. Throwing checks behind his own net is one thing that has impressed me. Bouncing back from off games is another. The past is now behind him - kudos. A-28 Kyle Chipchura:
There's a smart head on this boy's shoulders. Chipchura is a winner because he makes the most of the tools he's been given and directs that energy towards team goals. As experience plays into his game, he will only round out better. Makes the expected rookie mistakes, but considering the tasks he's been handed, he has performed surprisingly well. He will become a defensive standout - one day worthy of a Selke Trophy nomination. B31 Carey Price:
The future backbone of the team. Has unspectacularly gained points in six of seven starts, and one can't ask for better. His calm has had an effect on the team and he seems to carry with him an aura that few goalies have. His composure may find him in the starter's role more often than previously expected. Par for a goalie that has so far tended to overachieve. A-32 Mark Streit:
Not the revelation he was as a forward last season. Streit has had his difficulties in even strength play. While his skills reveal good offensive traits, such as strong breakout passes when not pressured, his physical one on one game leaves alot to be desired - his plus/minus stat in that area mirrors the team's soft spot. His PP work would give him an A mark but overall this is another area where the Canadiens need improvement. C+39 Cristobal Huet:
Does one rate Huet based on past dominance or by current scenario predicaments? It begs the question - considering his play has become a roll of the dice of late. While appearing in two thirds of the Habs games, he has but 2 more wins than backup Price. I believe a contract extension would ease his worries of not being in the team's future plans. So far, he has played as though he can feel the hot breath of Price breathing down his neck. Huet's coolness needn't be toying with in this manner - and to the team's detriment. So far, I rate Huet just a tad sub par. B+44: Roman Hamrlik:
Who knew? Hamrlik has been a revelation to Canadiens fans, for his steadiness and reliable play. He is the number one reason why the Canadiens are a more settled team and why it has become harder for opponants to assess them. Hamrlik does little with grand brush strokes, yet he has brought a calm, effective, and purposeful cleanliness to the Habs backline. It seems the less one notices him, the better he has played, and that is the way it should be with such a low risk defender. If one counts the times Hamrlik has ventured into offensive gambles, one can add up an equal amount of well timed offensive executions that have led to goals. Worth every buck. A46: Andrei Kostitsyn:
Like gravy through a grandmother, this player is a sure thing. As is the case with many a Russian export, his development is matter of patience and time. Play him and allow him to become accustomed and familiar in his role and the dividends will follow. Alongside Kovalev and Plekanec, as they become familiar with his offensive tendencies, what Kostitsyn is all about will one day soon be marvelled at. He is currently being taught and groomed in the finer details of two way play and physical committment. Once his studies are done, and he has learned to read his linemates quicker, what Kostitsyn will bring will be a thing of beauty. B51: Francis Bouilllon:
Cube is a solid and adequate fifth or sixth defender at best. He is having a better season than last due to the absense of a nagging injury. The question in Bouillon's case is - can he ever be more than what he currently is. He offers his best every night. B54: Mikhail Grabovski:
Like Gorges - how do you rate a part time player? He has yet to show me a single facet of his game, beyond bursting speed, that testifies why he is an NHL'er at present. Comparatively, Maxim Lapierre would have made more of furthered NHL grooming than Grabovski, who seems to require more AHL seasoning. His switch of numbers, from 59 to 54, may be the most precise analogy for his closeness to being a big league regular. His talents suggest Afinogenov, but his game reeks of Samsonov. C-71: Patrice Brisebois:
Give the old guy his merit - he hasn't been as cancerous as fans feared. In moments, he has been equal to his best days, while minimizing his lapses. When giving credit to Brisebois, much of that credit must be shared with Hamrlik. B-73: Michael Ryder:
Has been working a whole lot harder to achieve a whole lot less. Ryder is just a one horse pony that has been figured out by opposing defenseman. With few tricks up his sleeve, and little to build his game upon, Ryder's days in Montreal are numbered. C+79 Andrei Markov:
The Habs highest salaried player ever has delivered. His offensive stats speak his worth to the team's PP unit and his minutes played per game reflect his all around contribution. His plus/minus stat ( -3 ) is somewhat a concern. I feel the team, it's PP and PK units included, as well as Markov's effectiveness, would all be better served if he were teamed with Hamrlik steady. By season's end, he might punch in with numbers resembling Souray's totals last season. Unless the Canadiens become a more solid team 5 on 5, I wouldn't qualify Markov's numbers and minutes as a complete success unless the Habs are playoff bound. A84 Guillaume Latendresse:
A slow and deceptive start. The most criticized Hab has made progress between game 1 and 21. Latendresse receives the same arrows as big players such as Frank and Pete Mahovlich once did - in that he appears slow moving. It is in the player's hesitancy that such rages swell. I see Latendresse coming along as a 20 year old should be - all in small learning steps. Being that he is a player who is honestly conscious of when he fails, fans ought to cut him slack as he progresses. Still the Habs best prospect for a power forward. B-