The Canadiens power play has started the season 0 for 10. No reason to be concerned only three games into the season right? No – very definitely wrong.
At mid point of last season, the Canadiens had one of the league’s top ten records with the man-advantage. After 42 games they it was cruising along at a 7th ranked 21.1% (31/147). Combined with 4th ranked penalty killing record, the Canadiens combined special teams were the most potent in the league at plus-eleven.
And then it fell apart. Through the final 40 games the Canadiens power play was the worst in the league. They scored at a 12.8% rate (17/132). The Canadiens averted disaster because the Canadiens penalty killing was so darn good the second half of the year (83.9%). Still in the second half, special teams were minus-6.
So now we’re 0-10 to start this season. There’s something wrong here. Seems like the coaching staff has run out of ideas.
SIZE COUNTS …A Little Bit
When it comes to size, the Canadiens come up short. If you’ll forgive the expression. With an average height of 72.7 inches (just over 6 feet) the Habs current roster ranks 27th in the league. In average weight they are 12th at 203.3 lbs.
While Marc Bergevin made some off-season moves that made the team bigger I’m not so sure it’s one of his top priorities. Before he came to the Canadiens Bergevin had a hand in the building of the current edition of the Chicago Blackhawks. Nobody talks about size in Chicago where the Hawks rank 21st in height and 29th in weight. Or in Boston. The “Big Bad Bruins” may be bad, but outside of a couple of players they aren’t all that big either. The team ranks right in the middle at 15th in average height and 20th in average weight.
For the record, the tallest team in the NHL is Ottawa at 74.2” followed by Arizona and Winnipeg (tied). Anaheim is the heaviest team at 210.1 lbs, followed by LA and Washington. Only Anaheim and LA can be considered part of the NHL elite group right now.
There are a lot of things go into making a winning NHL team, speed, skill, determination and character. It would be nice to find a player with all of those characteristics plus size, but the Anze Kopitars of hockey life are very rare.
SCHERBAK TAKES OFF
At last June’s draft, Canadiens Trevor Timmins referred to the drafting of Nikita Scherbak as trying to trying to “hit a home run”, that is the hockey equivalent of swinging for the fences or taking a gamble.
It’s early of course, but indications are the selection might be a grand slam. At the age of 18 Scherbak was an eye-catcher at training camp before he was sent to junior hockey. In four games with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips Scherbak has 4 goals and 4 assists. This weekend he had a goal and assist in Friday night’s 5-1 home win vs. Portland. On Saturday night, 2 assists in their 5-1 win in Kamloops. The Silvertips are 2-0-2 since his arrival.
Updating the Canadiens other junior prospects – Forwards Michael McCarron (London) and Jérémy Grégoire (Baie Comeau) each suffered injuries while in Canadiens training camp and have yet to play for their junior teams. In Halifax, goaltender Zach Fucale is off to a show start. In five games his goals against average is 4.13 and his save percentage .883.
Outside of Scherbak, among the 2014 draft choices 6’4” defenseman Brett Lernout (3rd round) has played 4 games with Swift Current with 1 goal, 1 assist. Fifth rounder Daniel Audette has 4 goals and 6 assists in eight games with the QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix.
BUDAJ INJURED IN AHL DEBUT
Peter Budaj was injured in the first period of the opening game of the season for the St. John’s Ice Caps season. Playing in Providence, Budaj was caught in the middle of a goalmouth scramble and suffered a cut around his eye. He left the game and didn’t return. St. John’s lost the game to Malcolm Subban and Providence 2-1 in overtime. When Budaj left the game he had stopped all eight Providence shots. He was not dressed for the IceCaps game in Bridgeport Sunday.
There is some legitimacy to the claim that NHL management is an “old boy’s network”. The Old Boys would like to call it loyalty.
Back in 1999, the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup under general manager Bob Gainey, assistant GM Doug Armstrong, head coach Ken Hitchcock and Brett Hull who scored the Cup winning goal. Fifteen years later, they’re all together again. Armstrong is now general manager of the St. Louis Blues, Hull is executive vice president and Ken Hitchcock is head coach. To complete the reunion Gainey, who has been in a state of semi-retirement since he resigned as Canadiens general manager, was hired as Hitchcock’s coaching consultant. I’m not so sure what a ‘coaching consultant’ does, but so be it.
There’s more to this story. The year after their cup win, Gainey hired Kirk Muller to be Hitchcock’s assistant coach. Gainey then made an assistant coach of him in Montreal who, by the way, was responsible for a very successful power play. And now Muller is one of the Blues assistant coaches.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Thirty seven players played at least a game for the Canadiens last season. 15 of them are no longer part of the organization.
To other NHL teams – Brian Gionta UFA (now captain of Buffalo Sabres); Josh Gorges (trade-Sabres alternate captain); Thomas Vanek (UFA-Minnesota); Daniel Briere (Trade-Arizona); Ryan White (RFA-Philadelphia on Injury Reserve); Raphael Diaz (trade to Vancouver- signed with Calgary after off tryout contract).
Without Contracts – Douglas Murray (UFA); George Parros (UFA); Francis Bouillon (UFA)
In Minor Leagues – Mike Blunden (RFA-Tampa Bay-assigned to Syracuse AHL), Patrick Holland & Peter Budaj (trade to Winnipeg-waived to St. John’s AHL); Louis Leblanc (trade-Anaheim-assigned to Norfolk AHL)
In Europe – Joonas Nattinen (RFA-MODO-Sweden), Martin St. Pierre (UFA-Zagreb KHL)
Other former Canadiens of note –
Scott Gomez –Tryout with New Jersey. Asked to remain with the team into the season without a contract. Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek – released after New Jersey tryout. Without contracts.