With just over one tenth of the season in the books, here’s how the Habs are stacking up, analytically speaking:
(As per war-on-ice.com, after October 27th)
5vs5, Scores Close
Fenwick For/60: 41.67 (9th in the NHL)
Fenwick Against/60: 39.54 (17th)
Fenwick%: 51.31 (16th)
PDO: 97.17 (23rd)
PP Fenwick For/60: 73.41 (15th)
PK Fenwick Against/60: 69.00 (11th)
The biggest thing that jumps out is the Habs’ lowly score-close PDO. Considering that the team finished 2013-14 at 101.46 (4th highest before ANA, BOS and COL), we could expect that number to trend upwards in the next 10-game chunk of the schedule. The Canadiens have above-average shooting talent, 1 good starting netminder, and 1 good backup netminder. It’s just a matter of time.
The 5vs5 Fenwick against number does not look particularly pretty, either. Until you realize that the team is allowing more than 3 FEWER shots per 60 minute of play than the 2013-14 Canadiens, which was 23rd in the league with 42.68.
As for the special teams, the missing ingredient continues to be a lack of shot production on the powerplay. As discussed previously, aside from putting Subban on his off-side as a one-timer option, the key to 5vs4 success hinges on the work of Gallagher (PP1) and Parenteau (PP2) in the middle of the opposition’s defensive box. If they can present themselves as viable shooting options, then that takes some of the attention away from Subban and gives the Bad Guys more than one passing lane to try to deny.
1) The top 2 lines – the tried-and-true 67-51-11 and the newly assembled 27-14-15 trios are finding success, both by traditional and analytical measures.
2) The Emelin-Subban pairing – Despite some pre-season reservations, 74 and 76 have done A-okay together.
3) Lars Eller – As Olivier Bouchard remarked in his game recaps (linked below), Lars Eller has really rounded into form, playing in reasonably difficult minutes with not much of a supporting cast.
1) Mike Weaver – A good 6th defenseman last year, the 36 year-old is more of a good 7th defenseman this season. This is to say that he really shouldn’t be playing every night, especially with the availability and above-par play of both Tinordi and Beaulieu. As things stand now, he is playing sheltered minutes at even strength and not doing that great (-2.46% Fenwick Relative).
2) Wingers on the 4th line – As I alluded to before the season, the Habs may be well served by re-thinking how they organize the playing schedules of their 10th-14th forwards. Travis Moen and Brandon Prust could perform better in a platoon, giving each of them an additional full day of rest per week. Not only will a clearly defined part-time rotation allow the two forwards to feel close to 100% physically every time out, but it’ll also give some ice time to the younger and faster Michael Bournival, who has yet to play a regular season game.
3) Wingers on the 3rd line – This is where the Habs can really improve their team in the medium term. With Eller locked up for the next few years, the key now will be finding 2 wingers he can form an elite 3rd line with. Internally, Sekac is a good candidate, and so are Sven Andrighetto (speed + playmaking) and Christian Thomas (finishing abilities). On the open market, the Habs could look at a guy in the mold of two-way veteran Lee Stempniak (signed by NYR for $900,000 in the off-season) or unheralded minor-league scorer Jonathan Marchessault (currently in the TBL system).
Oct. 21 vs Detroit
"Datsyuk saw a goal waved off due to Abdelkader. Not only did he pull off a sublime backhand, but the entire play was as efficient as it gets. It starts with Zetterberg, in support defensively, threading the needle with a backhander to Datsyuk, through 3 Habs skaters:
Aside from being a superb demonstration of skill from Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the play also illustrates the Habs’ aggressiveness on the forecheck. You win some, you lose some. It’s not always been like this and I wonder how much longer it’ll last – all season, I hope. The Wings aren’t what they were, but they are still a good team and the Habs outclassed them 15-11 in scoring chances at even strength, including 11-8 in score-tight situations. Like a well-oiled machine."
Oct. 25 vs. New York Rangers
"The current edition of the Canadiens has some firepower at even strength (another 18 scoring chances created against the Rangers) and seems disciplined, but it is not terribly airtight defensively. 14 chances allowed at 5vs5 (which is not THAT bad), which seems to suggest that, after the 8th game and at the tail end of a long homestand where the team had plenty of practice time, that we are not dealing with a Jacques Lemaire-caliber defense. It’ll be an exciting year…
Eller was on fire, yet again. 3 chances, 4 entries. Somewhat inconsistent, but oh-so dynamic. We tend to underestimate at what point he carries the 3rd line by himself. I find Weise perfectly average both offensively and defensively, but he does have a mix of speed, strength and hustle which makes him a useful complement to Eller.
A nice game from Subban and Emelin. They took 7 more D-zone faceoffs than O-zone faceoffs mostly due to 4 icings. Subban is so good. I don’t know how many other defenseman can pull off what he does here. He starts on his heels and gets around 2 players (plus Emelin). No matter, the puck gets out."
Oct. 27 vs Edmonton
"It’s always a bit different, against the Oilers, due to their offensive talent which tends to spring out of nowhere. Their third line (Pouliot-Arcobello-Yakupov) is more or less functional, but they are far from Weise and Bourque watching Eller thrash about like the devil in holy water…
That being said, with Pacioretty in flight, we can admire the Oilers’ (lack of) defensive structure). Talk about a fire drill…
The Eller line was somewhat dysfunctional. Therrien ended up losing patience and installed Prust in Weise’s stead. Eller still drove the bus and created 2 chances, but we’ll have to find him some real wingers, because the big Dane is by himself out there. And don’t expect Bourque to wake up. Against Edmonton, he got his 5th chance of the season, after 9 games (Eller already has over 12). The guy is doing nothing."