Habs First Quarter Review

This piece is a collaboration between Chris Boyle and myself. What we aim to do with this piece is create a comprehensive template to evaluate the Montreal Canadiens, specifically each player, each quarter of the season. This first entry will be taking in data from the first 22 games. Only players who have played 10 or more games up to that point will be included. We will post a similar breakdown for each quarter of the season.

Before we get into it, let's break down the specific stats we'll be using to evaluate the players. The statistics I explained in this piece on November 14th will be used on an individual level instead of team level and while we will display PDO, we will also break it down into on ice shooting percentage and on ice save percentage. Shots, Fenwick, Corsi and PDO will be expressed in the same style as in that piece. As opposed to that piece, we'll be using those statistics for while the game is within one goal either way instead of just tied, or put another way, while the score is "close". Doing this expands our sample size by a large margin and allows for a more conclusive look at each player.

We will also be including scoring chance data from Olivier Bouchard's En Attendant Les Nordiques. For scoring chances we will be displaying scoring chances for and against the team at even strength while each player is on the ice. This will show how Fenwick, Corsi and shots correlate to scoring chances, and how effective the team is while each player is on the ice. Olivier counts scoring chances as shots that hit or miss the net within the "home plate" area:

Homeplate_medium

A fairly new statistic (to fans but certainly not coaches) we'll be including here is Chris Boucher's risk/reward rating. What Chris does is watch every single game, and break down each and every play that occurs within the game. Boucher refers to these plays as events. Specifically he looks at the following plays;

successful or unsuccessful passes, successfully or unsuccessfully beating an opponent 1-on-1 (deke), successful or unsuccessful shot-attempts (puck on net), successful or unsuccessful dump-ins, successful or unsuccessful puck-battles, successful or unsuccessful loose-puck recoveries, successful or unsuccessful blocked passes, successful or unsuccessful blocked shots, successful or unsuccessful stick-checks.

What this allows Boucher to do is create a metric for how successful each player is at their specific job. For example, if a player has a risk/reward of 1.5 then that player makes 1.5 successful plays for every unsuccessful one. From reading Chris's site over the last several months I believe Jacques Martin uses a very similar metric when making personnel decisions. Usually ice time during games highly correlates to Boucher's risk reward ratings.

Finally, we'll be fiddling with the +/- statistic in order to get a figure that more accurately represents a player's performance. We'll be eliminating +/- data during empty net situations as well as short handed goals against. The reason for this is simple, neither of these situations tell us very much about player performance. Both situations exclusively punish the team's best players. Doing this allows us to focus solely on even strength play.


Why the extensive focus on even strength?

The main reason for this is that most of every game is played at even strength. Because of this, the teams that are most successful in this situation have the best chance at success over time. Look no further than last year's Stanley Cup champions, the hated Boston Bruins. They were incredible at even strength with a terrible powerplay and mediocre penalty kill. While special teams are important, they can be overcome with great even strength play.

Another reason is because due to how little time is played on special teams, 1/4 of the season is not a long enough time to get a solid sample size to critique the play in those areas. At least not conclusively.

Legend

Shot on net based possession Shots
Fenwick (on net and misses) based possession Fenwick
Corsi (on net, missed and blocked (based possession) Corsi
Shooting percentage while on the ice On Ice Shooting%
Goaltender save percentage while on the ice On Ice SV%
PDO (luck quotient; trends to mean of 1000 over time) PDO
Scoring chances for team while on the ice at ES
Scoring Chances For
Scoring chances against team while on the ice at ES
Scoring Chances Against
+/- in ES, non-EN situations only True +/-

Note: Average goaltending during the first quarter for the Canadiens was a 92.4% save percentage, while average team shooting percentage was 7.4%. It's also important to note that players will be graded based on expectations, so while a 3rd liner could be rated higher than a 1st liner, it doesn't mean they played better.

All statistics used are gathered from timeonice.com, behindthenet.ca, NHL.com, enattendantlesnordiques.blogspot.com, and boucherscouting.com

CENTERS

Plekanec_medium

Tomas Plekanec is Mr. Everything for the Habs and has been for years now. His possession numbers were incredible through the quarter mark. He produced at near a point per game over the first quarter and received average goaltending from Price over this time. His on ice shooting percentage was just over the team average, which is expected considering he's the team's best forward. What this tells us is that Plekanec was no only dominant over this period, but he also wasn't lucky or unlucky. He produced at a sustainable rate. Because Plekanec's line consistently carried the flow of play over the first quarter, he was still a +3 in our +/- metric despite average luck. As you can see, Plekanec's scoring chance count is positive, which means that while he is on the ice 54% of the game's total scoring chances are for the Canadiens. This is especially impressive considering Plekanec gets the hardest matchup assignments. Only Gionta has faced a higher quality of competition overall this season for Montreal. Plekanec has the highest risk/reward rating of all Montreal forwards this year, showing that no matter the competition he continually keeps a cool head and makes solid plays.

First Quarter Grade: 9/10

Desharnais_medium

David Desharnais has had a dream job so far this season. Flanked by the team's two best and biggest wingers, often against tertiary assignments. This has changed recently with Desharnais earning more and more of Jacques Martin's trust, along with the inspired play of Cole and Pacioretty dragging him along. His overall possession numbers are solid, however his most startling stat is his shots on net percentage. This may be explained by Desharnais' uncanny passing ability combined with big skilled linemates. They are adept at getting into shooting position and he is great at getting them the puck. Desharnais produced more scoring chances than Plekanec in the first quarter, but was also on for nearly 20 more scoring chances against. This makes David a high risk, high reward type of player. Increased scoring chances against may be the reason Desharnais received a below average save percentage while on the ice. Just 52.2% of total scoring chances while Desharnais was on the ice were for Montreal. While Desharnais' strong passing helps him out, his overall risk/reward rating ranks him only 4th among Habs centers in the opening quarter of the season despite it being a solid 1.46.

First Quarter Grade: 6/10

Eller_medium

Lars Eller, contrary to Desharnais, was given an incredibly tough job for this stage in his career over the first quarter. Fortunately he met this challenge head on and replied with solid possession. Eller also was the beneficiary of amazing goaltending over the first quarter (97% SVP). Of course that kind of goaltending can't last, and we're seeing some regression to the mean for Eller currently. Eller's possession paid dividends in both scoring chances and production. While Eller was on the ice, 56.9% of the scoring chances that occurred were in favour of Montreal. Eller clearly still needs to work on his shooting, as can be shown by his relatively poor conversion of possession to shots on net. A lot of his shot attempts are blocked or forced wide, but this is common with young players of Eller's talent level. Eller produced a better risk/reward rating than Desharnais over this time period in spite of playing with lesser lights and against similar to better competition. The future is bright with him, but we're not quite there yet.

First Quarter Grade: 7/10

Gomez_medium

Scott Gomez, forever maligned, is not even close to as bad as Habs fans would like to think. As you can see, his possession numbers are actually tops among Montreal's centers, and his on ice shooting percentage is at about average this year, which means production will start to add up assuming he can get healthy. The problem for Gomez so far has been a combination of injuries and horrid luck with goaltending while he's playing. An 85.3% save percentage would be what you'd expect if an ECHL goaltender was called up. It's bad luck that just can't last, yet in spite of it Gomez was only a -1 over this time, largely because of his incredibly strong possession. 55.7% of the scoring chances while Gomez were on the ice were in favour of the Habs, which coincides well with his strong 1.57 risk reward rating. Both metrics rank him 2nd among Canadiens centers which is where you would objectively expect him to be. One big problem with Gomez this year however has been his offensive zone passing. While he's been the team's strongest forward with defensive and neutral zones, he's been among the worst offensively. This may be a symptom of Gomez struggling with the pressure to produce after last season, but it is impossible to prove this conclusively.

First Quarter Grade: 7/10

Nokelainen_medium

Petteri Nokelainen is clearly the weakest player in terms of possession in the forward group, although he has been making some progress over time. Over the first quarter he didn't really produce any offense, although his respectable defensive play allowed his shot totals to be within the realm of respectability, even if they are below par. To be fair to Nokelainen however, he hasn't exactly been given great linemates over his time in Montreal. Michael Blunden for example, was a complete disaster. Still, Nokia's non-existent on ice shooting percentage is pretty unlucky. His on ice save percentage however is bound to regress, as like Eller, that number is simply not sustainable. Nokelainen is a pretty low event player, which is probably ideal for a 4th line center. Only 35% of the scoring chances that occur while Nokelainen is on the ice are in favour of the Habs. His risk/reward rating doesn't do him any favours either as he's barely above even. It's not ideal, but it is the 4th line. That said, when Gomez is healthy, since Desharnais has improved his faceoff numbers to above par, it may be worth it to scratch Nokelainen to see how the team survives with Plekanec - Gomez - Eller - Desharnais as centers for awhile instead of playing a better player on the wing.

First Quarter Grade: 3/10

LEFT WINGERS

Pacioretty_medium

Max Pacioretty didn't waste much time in proving he was still the same player after a broken vertebrae and concussion. Despite dealing with below average goaltending over the first quarter, Pacioretty put up solid numbers in every other area. Like Desharnais, he's been a high risk, high reward player so far this season with just 52.2% of the scoring chances while he's on turning out in his favour, but his excellent possession numbers limit scoring from opponents and while he's on the ice the team benefits from a slightly above average shooting percentage. Although he's benefited from the weaker competition his line has faced, Pacioretty recorded the second highest risk/reward rating among all Canadiens forwards. He's been an even strength beast so far this season with a production level that is sustainable and even likely to improve overall as Max hasn't had much powerplay success at all. What's most exciting about Max Pacioretty is that he's still growing into the player he's going to be. The 23 year old probably won't be in his prime for another 2 seasons.

First Quarter Grade: 9/10

Cammalleri_medium

Mike Cammalleri has had frustrating personal and team luck this season. Unfortunately he's also received below average goaltending to boot. It has been a criminally unfair season for Cammalleri who has actually played extremely well over the first quarter against solid competition. Every bit of uncontrollable variation has worked against him, from a skate cut to the thigh to constantly beating goalies but hitting posts. In spite of his reputation as a one-dimensional scorer, Cammalleri has consistently back checked all year and managed impressive possession and scoring chance numbers. While Cammalleri is on the ice 54.3% of the scoring chances are in the Habs favour. In spite of all this bad luck Cammalleri has managed to keep even in our true plus/minus metric, which is fairly impressive. Since Cammalleri was signed with the Canadiens he's managed to find success against top level competition on Plekanec's wing, but ideally with the emergence of Max Pacioretty, and when the team gets healthy he should be able to get a little shelter against secondary competition, which would really boost his numbers. To give an indication of just how solid Cammalleri has been; his risk/reward rating is at the same level as Josh Gorges and rank 3rd (tied with Gomez) among all Canadiens forwards.

First Quarter Grade: 8/10

Moen_medium

Travis Moen isn't just completing at a higher level than expected in the goal scoring department, he's creating more than anyone would suspect of him. He's been Mr. Utility for the Habs since he was signed here, playing anywhere from the first to fourth lines and excelling. His possession is slightly below par when measuring blocked shots, but considering his first responsibility is to play a defensive role, having strong Fenwick and shot numbers may be the more important stats for Moen. It goes without saying that Moen is getting some great luck this season. Above average save percentage and shooting percentage give him a crazy PDO that will regress as the season goes on. Despite the luck making him look so great, the team is still marginally outchancing the competition while he's on the ice as 51.8% of the scoring chances are in his favour. Moen's solid play along with great luck has rocked him to a solid +5 over the first quarter, which is very impressive considering the results the Canadiens have had. That said however, Moen could definitely use some improvement in his decision making as his risk/reward rating is a team low. This likely has a lot to do with being put against secondary competition in order to shelter the Desharnais line, along with the fact that Moen is a far below average passer.

First Quarter Grade: 7/10

Darche_medium

Mathieu Darche has clearly been the best of the fourth liners who've regularly played this season, but he still hasn't been very good. It has been an uphill climb for him at even strength as his teammates have been very poor, but his numbers are on the edge of respectability. Below par in both Corsi and Fenwick, but above par in shots on goal shows that Darche has been doing his job on the defensive side of the puck. Darche has been miraculously lucky as far as goaltender performance goes, but at the same time he's been just as unlucky on the offensive side. Despite his excellent luck on the goaltending side, his negative possession and scoring chance counts have lead to him being a solid minus in our true plus/minus figure. As maligned as Darche is for being overused, the difference between his possession and scoring chance numbers and frequent linemate Nokelainen are striking. While Darche is on the ice, 47.9% of the scoring chances that occur are in his favour. Not something to brag about, but not to be ashamed of either for a journeyman 4th liner. His risk/reward rating is also respectable for his position in the lineup, far better than Nokelainen's.

First Quarter Grade: 6/10

RIGHT WINGERS

Cole_medium

Erik Cole may be the best UFA signing the Canadiens have made in recent memory. It's been a long time since the Canadiens have seen two power forwards on their team, and Cole's penchant for streaking down the right side and cutting to the middle is something to behold. Cole has experienced egregiously poor luck offensively over the first quarter, with a very poor team shooting percentage. He's battled through this however with elite possession numbers in all three categories while playing solid defensively. Cole has also benefited from some excellent goaltending luck, which actually brings his PDO to a sustainable level. A prototypical slow starter, Cole has built momentum that doesn't seem to be fading away. Certainly dropping down to play against lower competition has helped, but his production has stayed steady and even increased as his line with Pacioretty and Desharnais has been given more responsibility. While Cole is on the ice, a whopping 58.3% of the total scoring chances that occur go his way. That Cole's scoring chance numbers are so significantly better than his linemates say a lot about how well he's played this season, and how much he carries the success of that line. Surprisingly however, Cole's risk/reward rating is startlingly low. Only four Canadiens forwards have a lower rating.

First Quarter Grade: 9/10

Gionta_medium

Brian Gionta has clearly struggled. Outside of a three game stretch from games 19-22 in our sample area, where Gionta had 25 scoring chances for to 12 against, he's been a disaster at even strength this year. There has been speculation that he's been playing with a nagging injury from training camp, however the difficulty of his role has drastically increased this season as he's been playing with Plekanec against top competition instead of with Gomez. He's also been starting his shifts in the defensive zone much more often than usual. While Gionta was lucky over this period in his individual shooting percentage, but got below average save percentage from the Habs goalies and below average shooting percentage from his teammates. Even with the big boost towards the end of the first quarter, Gionta was barely above par in scoring chances as just 50.3% of the scoring chances while Gionta is on the ice are in favour of the Canadiens, which isn't encouraging. Despite being sub par in possession as well as getting some rotten luck, Gionta's talent and drive are still readily apparent. His risk/reward rating is still solid at 1.43 which shows that he's still battling and making good decisions with the puck. Being the captain and creeping up on 30 goals for Montreal the last 2 seasons, expectations are high for Gionta, so this kind of result is just not good enough for the team's most consistent winger.

First Quarter Grade: 4/10

Kostitsyn_medium

Andrei Kostitsyn over the first quarter has greatly benefited from getting away from top competition on the Plekanec line, and has built excellent chemistry with Eller. His best performances have been when playing with Eller and Moen as for the first time in his career he's been the primary finisher on a line. This has resulted in a rapid burst of offense to start the year and startlingly excellent possession numbers. Kostitsyn's Corsi possession is good but not elite, but his Fenwick and shots on goal are spectacular. Unfortunately Kostitsyn has received far below average goaltending, but this is more than compensated by his excellent team shooting luck, giving him a very high PDO, similar to linemates Travis Moen and Lars Eller. Regression will happen but the first quarter was enjoyable to see regardless as Kostitsyn took advantage of limited ice time and made up for minimal powerplay time with high completion. Kostitsyn is was also in the upper echelon of the team in scoring chances as 58.1% of the scoring chances while he was on the ice were in favour of the Habs. In spite all of his good play, Kostitsyn barely stayed above even in true plus/minus due to poor goaltending. Shockingly, after looking dominant by every other metric, Kostitsyn recorded the second lowest risk/reward rating of all Canadiens players over the first quarter. The main reason for this was a team low pass completion percentage.

First Quarter Grade: 9/10

Palushaj_medium

Aaron Palushaj wasn't expected to be a roster player for the Canadiens this season, and although he hasn't been able to ripple the twine or even manage an assist, his play has been better than many give him credit for. Being positive in overall possession is a clear indicator of Palushaj's skill level and potential, but it is also clear that he is not NHL ready. A clue there is how few of his total shots attempts get to the net. Stark drop offs between Corsi to Fenwick, then Fenwick to shots show that Palushaj has trouble getting his shots through, as do his linemates when playing with him. This problem will go away as Palushaj matures towards his potential as a top 9 forward. While he got no luck at all offensively, he benefited from great goaltending over the first quarter. As is expected, Palushaj was well below even on scoring chances as only 40% went his way. His risk/reward rating was also among the worst on the team

First Quarter Grade: 5/10

DEFENSEMEN

Subban_medium

P.K. Subban, what more is there to say about this kid? Looking at Subban's stat line, considering that every game he lines up against the opposing team's top players, and starting most of his shifts in his own zone, no one should be anything less than amazed. At 22 years old P.K. is a legitimate #1 defenseman and a possession monster. Not only that, but his decision making is at an even higher level than the team's best defensive forward in Plekanec. Subban's risk/reward rating was the best on the entire team over this time. This is reflective of both his skill and decision making, as much as people like to attack him on "rookie moves". While Subban is on the ice, 54.6% of the scoring chances go Montreal's way. While Subban has had some poor personal shooting luck, especially over the first quarter, as well as some below average goaltending behind him, he's done everything right in the first quarter. One of the benefits of this review being so late is that we can see what happens when Subban is separated from another line. Now the entire effect isn't due to Subban, but as Olivier Bouchard noted, since Subban stopped playing with Plekanec's line in the second quarter, the top line's possession numbers have plummeted terribly. That Subban has a negative PDO, but a positive true plus/minus tells you how dominant he is. When Subban is on the ice, he controls the flow of play. That he's able to do this so successfully at 22 is a compliment to his own development and some solid teaching under the now fired Jacques Martin. Sophomore slump my ass.

First Quarter Grade: 10/10

Gorges_medium

Josh Gorges has come back with fire in his belly after surgery last year to repair his ACL. All summer fans of the negative Nancy variety were saying that Habs fans were overrating Josh Gorges and that he probably wouldn't be as good as we all thought in our heads. Well that turned out to be more than wrong, as Gorges played better hockey over the first quarter than he ever has in his career. An improved skating stride with his repaired knee has allowed him to take more risks and not suffer from them, and improved his puck battling capabilities by getting better positioning. No doubt that being paired with Subban is also a nice bump to his all around stats. That said, going into the year Gorges was expected to be a #3 defenseman, not a #2, and he's filled that role with aplomb. The highest true plus/minus on the team along with scoring chances being 56.3% in his favour show how valuable Gorges has been this season. The most encouraging thing about Gorges' performance is that his luck hasn't been good or bad. This is about what we can expect from him going forward. SIgn this man Mr. Gauthier, sign him for a long time.

First Quarter Grade: 9/10

Gill_medium

Hal Gill has not had a great first quarter. Though his possession numbers are given a nice boost by starting the year paired with Subban, overall the signs aren't very good for him. Considering the number of passes and shots he blocks, along with stick checks, Gill's risk/reward rating is unacceptably low. That said, even strength was never Gill's strong suit. He is essentially a penalty killing specialist, and because of that this evaluation doesn't really show his true value. At even strength however, Gill has done little to show that he's a better option than other players. He has suffered from some poor luck in both team shooting percentage and save percentage while he's on the ice, but a team worst -6 in true plus/minus to go with the worst risk/reward among all defenders tells a story about Gill possibly being overused, or even that he's slipped into 7th defenseman territory. On the other hand, he's still managed to stay positive in possession and scoring chances as 52.2% of the chances that occur while he's on the ice are in favour of the Canadiens. What it may come down to is that Gill needs to play on the third pairing to be successful, which is tough considering the Markov injury.

First Quarter Grade: 6/10

Spacek_medium

Jaroslav Spacek is gone now so there's not much value in breaking him down as it doesn't matter going forward for the team. For the most part I already evaluated Spacek when he was traded for Tomas Kaberle, and the conclusion was that Kaberle was a superior player overall. Outside of some great goaltending behind him, nothing about Spacek's play this season was very impressive.

First Quarter Grade: 4/10

Emelin_medium

Alexei Emelin had a rough start in adjusting to North American ice. Not only did he struggle positionally, but unlike his peers he was given no margin for error. Multiple benchings and trips to the press box limited his playing time. To make it worse for Emelin, he had worse puck luck than any player on the Canadiens not named Gomez. Far below average goaltending behind him with below average shooters on the ice with him compounding his troubles. Emelin was also victimized severely on scoring chances as only 43.6% of the scoring chances while he was on the ice were in his favour. That all said however, Emelin's adjusting bore some fruit towards the end of the second quarter. He slowly inched towards positive possession, and his risk reward rating ended up just behind Gorges among defensemen. Another benefit of his adjustments were some devastating hits as opponents crossed the blueline into the Canadiens' zone. It's not hard to see top 4 capability in Emelin's future, but he's going to need to start playing on a regular basis.

First Quarter Grade: 6/10

Weber_medium

Yannick Weber was thought to have earned a permanent spot on the roster after playing very well against Boston in the playoffs, but in many ways his versatility has worked against him. Weber started the year on defense, and played very well considering his age and position on the roster, but being jerked around between defense and right wing seems to have been Jacques Martin's major blunder this season. Weber's play hit a wall after his last shift to right wing despite a really promising start, despite playing with the dregs of the lineup. Weber's possession is below par, but considering he played a large portion of his time on defense with Spacek, his numbers look very good in comparison. Somehow, despite playing with lesser lights, Weber ended up being positive in scoring chances as 51.2% of the scoring chances while he was on went his way. Surprisingly enough, Weber recorded the second highest risk/reward rating of all Canadiens defensemen over the first quarter of the season. That combined with some solid luck and respectable possession probably should have kept him on the 3rd pairing every game this season instead of on right wing, but it didn't happen.

First Quarter Grade: 6/10

Diaz_medium

Raphael Diaz is an odd case. Solid possession numbers considering his rookie status, solid risk/reward numbers, about even as far as luck is concerned, but a golden ticket to staying in the lineup in spite of near identical stats to the other rookie defender the Habs have. Surely part of his advantage is that he's right handed, but in many ways Weber outplayed him over the first quarter and was always left behind him on the depth chart. Diaz really benefited from his coach's confidence after struggling mightily in the early going. His possession numbers early on were startlingly bad in comparison to the rest of the team, but really picked up as he learned the North American game. Diaz was also given free reign to play high risk, high reward hockey, something that is wholly confusing given Jacques Martin's disposition on that method of play. We know that Subban was forced to reign in his play during his rookie year, and he benefited from that advice. Because of Diaz's high risk play, he allowed just one less scoring chance against than Subban over the first quarter, despite playing against weaker opposition and far fewer minutes. While Diaz is on the ice, just 50.5% of the scoring chances are in his favour. Diaz is not a bad player though, he's just given too long of a leash. His possession and risk/reward numbers vindicate him as an NHL player, one that could be very good a season from now.

First Quarter Grade: 6/10

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