Since Brian Gionta joined the Canadiens in the 2009-10 season, no one has scored more regular season goals in a Canadiens jersey than his 77. That's a pretty impressive mark considering that he's missed 71 games over that time. The versatile, diminutive forward began his Habs career in a tough minutes role with long time friend Scott Gomez, before playing more of an exploitation role the following year as Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern took the tough minutes.
Since then, it's been Gionta on Plekanec's wing (when healthy) taking the top competition the other team has to offer. Last season while struggling with a nagging groin injury as well as an arm injury, Gionta's possession numbers took a steep dive, as did his shot production. A healthy Gionta though, has seen both numbers rise again.
Gionta's shot rate isn't what it was 2 or 3 years ago, but at the age of 34, that's to be expected. There's also the factor that Plekanec shoots a lot more often than Scott Gomez did, and having a second good winger on the line means that Gionta isn't always the trigger man. Stephan Cooper has noted this in his analysis of Gionta many times. His shot rate still ranks fourth on the team though, which is pretty excellent.
Gionta is facing tougher competition than last season, with slightly easier zone starts and about the same level of teammates, but his results are much improved. His negative relative Corsi has more to do with other players in easier roles playing well than it does him playing poorly. His actual non-relative possession numbers are positive across the board.
Game by game numbers show that for the majority of the first half, Gionta was below team average in possession, and unable to outperform his zone starts. For the most part though, this isn't surprising. The players that take top level competition on an excellent possession team will be below the team average.
On the powerplay, Gionta's chances created per 60 is down mildly, but his chances against per 60 have been cut in half, making him extremely effective on the powerplay. His goals scored reflect this, but he's been a little bit unlucky in registering assists on the powerplay both this year and last year. Last season he didn't manage a single assist, this year he can only get primary assists. Gionta is producing just under twice the powerplay points that he did last season, against slightly better penalty killers and with slightly better teammates.
On the penalty kill, Gionta has been used sparingly, and that shouldn't be surprising. Not only is he better used elsewhere and more likely to continue a high level of play without heavy shorthanded usage, but he ranks near the bottom of the team in most categories. One area where Gionta is very effective though, is generating shorthanded chances. No one on the team has generated as many per 60 minutes as he has.
But although a dangerous PK is a good thing, the main focus of that unit is to prevent scoring against, something that Gionta has been struggling with this season and last.
Gionta's role is that of a top line, tough minutes right winger. While his scoring chance ratio is a closer shave than we would like to see, it has been getting better as the season goes on. Positive possession in very tough minutes and improvements over last year in every single area of his game bodes well for the veteran leader, but he's also hitching a ride on the Plekanec express, and at 34 he's seen better years overall.
Half season grade: 8/10