Montreal Canadiens Player of the Month: Carey Price
It wasn’t an easy start to the season for 2014-15’s Hart Trophy-winner. In the first year of a contract that sees him among the top earners in the league, he was struggling to keep the puck out of the net, looking nothing like the goaltender who single-handedly won games for the team over the last decade.
After a save percentage of .886 in November, he rebounded with a .916 mark from 12 games (11 starts) in December. It’s not exactly a sparkling statistic, but anyone watching the games rather than simply looking at the numbers knows how critical Price has been to putting the season back on track.
Perhaps a bit blasphemous in this age of analytics, his win-loss record provides a better indication of his play, going 8-3-0 before the Christmas break. The eight wins tied with Jacob Markstrom and Marc-Andre Fleury for the most in December.
A look at high-danger chances may be the best way to show his strong performance. In 15 games last month, the Canadiens allowed the eighth-most chances at 5-on-5 from right around the crease. Yet they were 11th-best in keeping them out of the net. Price stopped 69 of the 78 high-danger shots he faced, ranking sixth among those who played 300 minutes with an .885 save percentage on such chances.
In the final month of 2018, Price was playing like the team’s MVP once again. A lower-body injury kept him out of the final three contests, but hopefully for the sake of the team, and what are currently looking like good post-season chances, it won’t be a long-term issue.
Laval Rocket Player of the Month: Michael McCarron
It has been one of the strongest months in recent memory for the Canadiens prospect. With 13 points in 11 games McCarron has become a driving force in the Rocket offence. He had been playing lower in the lineup for Joël Bouchard, but with injuries and recalls taking a toll on the team, McCarron worked his way up to a top-line role rather quickly to start the month.
He took full advantage of that, posting a four-assist game, including three primary helpers, in a 5-4 loss to the Comets. Unlike in the past, McCarron kept the offence coming over the course of the month, acting as a playmaking catalyst and goal-scorer.
Even in games where he didn’t record a point, McCarron was still a force on the ice, forechecking hard and disrupting opposing teams around their net. Using his massive frame to his advantage, McCarron tormented teams in front of the net all month, with multiple tip-in or rebound goals.
Eight seconds later, Michael McCarron rips a power play goal.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 15, 2018
2-1 Laval over Syracuse pic.twitter.com/9A8MNZE4nQ
Putting himself into positions to score goals and make plays happen is a welcome change; last year, unless he was fighting with someone, McCarron wasn’t all noticeable. He’s involved all over the ice now, and while the Rocket are still scrapping for every point possible, he’s been a gigantic part of the team’s success, rather than one holding them back.
Les Canadiennes Player of the Month: Ann-Sophie Bettez
The CWHL announced that Marie-Philip Poulin was their Player of the Month, but I would argue that Ann-Sophie Bettez was even better. In five games in the month of December, Bettez had seven goals and five assists for 12 points. She is tied with Poulin for the CWHL scoring lead with 26 points in 15 games. She also leads the league with 14 goals, three ahead of any other player in the league.
Her best game of the month was a three-goal, one-assist performance in a 4-1 win over the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays in the first game of the China trip. In those three games, she had six goals and two assists.
We have mentioned Bettez’s exploits several times on this website, and she is the one of the best and most consistent players in CWHL history. She blows away the field in terms of points since entering the league, and she has finished top-five in league scoring in all of her seven seasons, winning the scoring title once. She was named to her fourth All-Star Game this month as well.
Bettez’s speed is among the best — if not the best — in the entire league. She combines that with a skill level that puts her on par with some of the top women in the sport and is a deadly offensive option whether she plays with Poulin or on a different line.
Les Canadiennes went 5-0-0 in December, and look to keep that momentum going when they play the Toronto Furies this weekend. Saturday’s game will be on Sportsnet, so you can see Bettez and the rest of the team in action. Montreal is three points behind the Calgary Inferno for top spot in the league, with one game in hand.
European Prospect of the Month: Alexander Romanov
Before the World Junior Hockey Championship started, the expectation on Romanov was to make no mistakes and show off a strong defensive game to support Russia’s challenge for the gold medal. That lasted for about three minutes into the first tournament game against Denmark, when Romanov showed of skill, confidence, and poise that hadn’t been seen before.
Romanov didn’t stop there. He took his game to a new level — defensively, offensively, and grabbing a spot on the special teams, too. The defender unleashed a bomb to score, he dangled and showed incredible awareness to set up another goal before assisting on the empty netter for a three-point night, and was named Russia’s player of the game.
Both Amelia McGuire (here) and David St-Louis (here) have written up reports on the improved game by the Russian defender. Personally, I think the safety-first approach coached by Igor Nikitin in a up-tempo environment has built Romanov’s confidence, and when playing against his peers at a slower pace, he gets the chance to play another kind of hockey. Like an NHL player coming to WJC is expected to perform at a high level, Romanov has done just that with his KHL experience.
It is easy to forget that Romanov has taken a regular spot on what many consider is the top club outside the NHL; a team that would most likely challenge for a playoff spot in the NHL if it came to that. Romanov’s start of the WJC makes him the European player of the month. Let’s see if he can carry this performance back to league play and make it two in a row.
North American Prospect of the Month: Ryan Poehling
Poehling had points in four straight games — all assists— before going to the World Juniors. But more than his production with St. Cloud State, it makes sense that the player of the month would then be the best performer at the tournament he is currently participating in due to its importance in the hockey world.
He has eight points in four games in the group stage of the tournament, enough to place him first in scoring. But, most of all, it was his clutch play against Sweden that earned him this month’s title. It is one of the best single-game performance we have seen from a Habs prospect in a long time.
And it is not like his play before that was lacklustre. On the contrary, Poehling has shown that he can be a consistent two-way force even when he is not scoring. He is both a role player and an offensive weapon for Team USA. Versatile and effective.
This tournament could be the stepping stone Poehling needs in his development toward becoming an impact player.