A look at the good and bad of the Habs' season thus far.

+ Top line
- "#2" line
The trio of Koivu, Kovalev, and Zednik/Perezhogin has been as good as anyone could expect, often dominating games. Koivu in particular has been a whirling dervish on the ice, hearkening back to his early days in Montreal before he became saddled with the 'injury-prone' label. Kovalev has been incredible at times, and he has managed to produce even when having an off-game. For a player of his abilities, he sure seems to miss the net a lot. Perezhogin was the benefactor of playing with these two world-class talents until Zednik recovered from a groin pull. Zednik still appears to be finding his hands, and has not been much of an improvement over Perezhogin.

The consensus second line of Ribeiro, Ryder, Dagenais/Higgins/Other has been poor. Maybe they're thinking they have to play like "#2" in the bathroom sense. Ribeiro has shown flashes of the talent that led the team in scoring in '03-04, but those flashes have only punctuated long stretches of invisibility. Ryder has been better, often carrying this pairing to respectability, but even he does not seem to have the same jump he had two years ago. The less said about Dagenais, the better.

- Injuries
+ Injuries where the team can afford to have them
So far, Zednik, Sundstrom, and Bonk have been felled by groin pulls. Ivanans had some teeth extracted by Zdeno Chara, D.D.S. Ryder missed most of training camp with an ankle sprain, Begin has been ill but has not missed any games, and last night Bulis was lost in the first period with a shoulder injury. The good news is the injuries have been to the forward ranks where the team has depth. The young players, Steve Begin, and Mathieu Dandenault have filled in admirably so far. If the defense were to suffer a few concurrent injuries, the situation would be cause for more concern.

+ Andrei Markov
- Sheldon Souray
There were early rumblings of Norris contention in 03-04 as Sheldon Souray appeared to have put his booming shot and mean streak together into a package resembling a true #1 blueline stud. This season he seems to be lost and lacking confidence. Could be the new interpretation of the rules, could be personal problems, could be he fooled us all last season. After playing in Sweden during the lockout, I was expecting a more well rounded player this year. If there's a single image
capturing Souray's performance this year, it has to be his half-heartedly (half-assedly?) sticking his bum out at Jason Spezza just before "the goal." That behind may stop baywatch babes in their tracks, but it couldn't stop the Spezz dispenser. In basketball, they call that "putting you on a poster."

On the other hand, Andrei Markov has been superb. Every bit of value Souray lost because of the new rules, Markov gained as much or more. Mobility, positioning, good hands and a quick stick make for a top-notch defensive defenseman in the *new and improved* NHL. The enduring image of Markov this season has to be him lifting Jaromir Jagr's stick in the corner, stealing
the puck, then making a crisp pass up ice for a quick transition to offense. That type of play doesn't get as much circulation on highlight reels as does Souray's attempted bum check. The only thing separating Markov from Norris contention right now is points. I get the feeling that the Norris winner this year will go to one of the many "defensemen" in the league who are actually forwards in disguise.

+ Road record
- Home record
6-0-1 on the road, 5-3 at home. A .625 win% at home is nothing to sneeze at, but hey, everything's relative. Some say a better road record than home record is a sign of a young team.

+ Play at even strength
- Play on special teams
The PP and PK have been average. With the team's excellent play at even strength, average special teams should be adequate. However, I am not impressed with the Habs' number of PP opportunities vs. penalty kills. They are even-steven. One would expect a good skating team to draw more penalties than they take, and I can't come up with a good explanation why that's not
the case. If I were conspiratorial in nature, I might suggest that the team's history in ...theatrically attempting to draw penalties (Ribeiro, Kovalev and Markov in particular) might have put them in the ref's bad books.

- Winning one goal games
+ Team's performance in said one-goal games
If a team amasses a good-looking record with a run of close victories, you have to expect that sooner or later their luck will run out and some of those close wins will turn into close losses. The Habs lead the league with a 9 wins in one goal games, and a record of 9-1. The Sharks are second with 7 wins and a record of 7-2. Some say that winning close games is a sign of a good team, that they "find a way to win." Horsefeathers. I am on the side of
Mr. Tom Benamin on this subject.

So, on the flipside, the Canadiens have played well in those games that I have seen. It seems just as likely that the Habs were unlucky in several of those wins, and the opposition was fortunate that they only lost by one. The Habs have outshot the opposition in 11 of 15 games thus far. Also, their 11-3-1 record has not been against the stiffs of the Eastern Conference. Excluding the results of their games vs. Montreal, the combined record of the nine teams Montreal has played so far is 60-40-12. The Habs are 5-2-1 against the Northeast: 2-0 vs. the Sabres and Bruins, 1-1 vs. the Leafs and 0-1-1 vs. the Sens.

+ Yann Danis
- Jose Theopendoor
Theo has not been up to snuff. That they're still winning despite their Hart winner's struggles makes their record even more remarkable. While it is good to see the rookie Danis make the most of his opportunities to play, the Habs are going to need Theo at his best if they want to win a playoff series or two.

+ Kids now
- Kids in the future
The play of Perezhogin, Plekanec, Higgins, Komisarek and Danis has been superb. As a group, they make few rookie mistakes and usually look like composed veterans. The reason should be obvious - compared to the big names of this year's rookie crop, they *are* all veterans. The youngest, Alex Perezhogin, is a full four years older than Sidney Crosby.

These players are not fresh-faced 2005 draftees - they all have a great deal of pro experience, whether it be AHL or one of the European leagues. Though they have been solid, I don't see too much room for improvement in them. Perezhogin looks explosive at times, so he might surprise me as his career progresses. Komisarek, who I thought would be good for 15-20 minutes per game, has been looking stronger and getting more shifts lately, so I guess he may turn into a top-pair guy. Plekanec plays a solid 2-way game. Higgins especially looks like he may be destined to be a defensive specialist. He got plenty of scoring chances last night, but like those do-it-yourself pine furniture kits, he has no finish. None really look like they have all-star abilities, and I see at best #2 line potential in all of them. That does not bode well if there is a long-term injury to one of the top scorers, or for next year when Koivu is eligible to become a - (*gulp*) - UFA. I hope I'm wrong, of course, and all of the kids turn into superstars.

So far this season has been all a Habs fan could hope for. Home ice in the first round sounds more reasonable than it did a
month and a half ago.


Blogger Callmeteem said...

I am thrilled with the Habs so far. But they have had too many close games and I'm not sure they can keep it up--at least not at the present pace. I would love it if they do but I am a little worried.

11/07/2005 5:55 p.m.  
Blogger Jeff J said...

Yeah, the current pace would be hard to keep up. They're "on pace" for a record of 60-16-6 and 126 points.

If they go 35-25-7 over the rest of the season, that would be good for 100 points - certainly within reason.

11/08/2005 9:37 a.m.  

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