Author: James O'Brien

Strong record or not, Habs have some work to do


When you look back at January, and really the 2014-15 season so far, things are going really well for the Montreal Canadiens.

The good news

Carey Price is generating buzz for a Hart Trophy win, not just a Vezina. Max Pacioretty keeps firing shots on goal, quite a few of which are winning games. Young players such as Alex Galchenyuk are already growing into legit everyday players while veterans including Andrei Markov show that they have something left in the tank.

It doesn’t hurt that Montreal is in a strong position to win the Atlantic Division, as they are in the thick of things and have certain advantages (such as two games in hand on Tampa Bay, which holds a slim one-point lead for the top spot).

If you look at their run since mid-December, business is seemingly booming; they are 15-4-1 since Dec. 9.

Is it luck?

Here’s the thing, though: there are some troubling signs that Montreal is just a few bounces away from a considerable run of losses. Really, it’s the same general idea that prompted Jason’s post back in October: “The Habs have been really good … except they haven’t, really.”

They’ve lost the shot differential battle in seven of their last 10 games. The deeper possession battle hasn’t gone well, either:

It’s not as if it’s merely a bad month-and-change. Montreal is in the lower-third of the NHL possession-wise, too.

The very thing that’s been going right – brilliant goaltending from Price, timely scoring from the likes of Pacioretty – might just camouflage the notion that the Habs have also been getting lucky. Their PDO – a measure of save and shooting percentage that is a decent rule of thumb for a team’s good fortune – is the second highest in the NHL. While Price certainly has the talent to inflate that number from a save-percentage standpoint, it’s still noteworthy that Montreal is getting bounces now that might not come later.

(Montreal has a 63.6 winning percentage in one-goal games, tying them with Tampa Bay for the fifth-highest mark in that regard).

source: AP
Source: AP


Reasons for hope

While certain stats point to what could be a scary plummet, there are some reasons to believe that the Habs might be less prone to free-falling than, say, last season’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

For one thing, they have an elite defenseman in P.K. Subban and one of the best goalies in the world in Price. There’s also a reasonable amount of forward depth to play better possession hockey.

Head coach Michel Therrien might just be the make-or-break factor in that regard, really.

As you can see here and here, Therrien has a tendency to flip-flop from doing the sort of things that make the stats community cringe (like arguably miscasting Dale Weise in a top-line role) and putting the Habs in a better position to succeed (such as opening things up during chunks of playoff time).

This isn’t to say that Therrien can just flip a switch and Montreal will become an elite possession team, yet perhaps tweaks can be made to avoid serious slippage.


There are some signs that the Canadiens might be playing with fire if they don’t improve in certain areas, yet there’s also the argument that their style is sustainable. Do you think Montreal is a genuine contender as constituted? If not, what do they need to do to make that happen?

Eric Staal on playing with Jordan: ‘We’re a threat every night’

Colorado Avalanche v Carolina Hurricanes

One would hope that the Carolina Hurricanes would get something like a lite version of what the Sedin twins have in pairing Eric Staal and Jordan Staal, but it turns out that isn’t quite as simple.

Instead, it’s been a learning process, as Eric told that he spent most of his life competing against (rather than alongside) his brother Jordan.

“I’ve never played with him in my life,” Eric said. “Even on the outdoor rink we played against each other, so it’s not like I have anything to go on. I’ve watched him my whole life. I know his game, what he does, what he’s good at and what I’m good at, but we’re figuring it out as we go.”

The profile points out that the two have combined for 20 points since pairing up (Jordan in the middle, Eric moving to the wing) on Dec. 29. Eric remarked that “we’re a threat every night.”

After years of carrying depth linemates, it must be a luxury for Jordan to play with a partner as talented as his brother. It makes sense that his strategy is simply to get Eric the puck, then. Their size and skill remind their brother Marc Staal of playing against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

It’s probably safe to say that it’s too late for the sibling pairing to be something opponents worry about (beyond being a spoiler threat), yet such comparisons have to give Carolina some much-needed hope for the future.

PHT Morning Skate: Lundqvist shakes it off


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

James Neal faced the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Nashville Predators won 4-0 on Sunday, so this seems like a good time to take another look back at that big trade. (Puck Daddy)

Interesting angle here: the five best “unsung” backups to Martin Brodeur. Feel free to play Helmet while reading this. (The Hockey News)

Johnny Gaudreau: a “big man trapped in a small man’s body.” (NHL Numbers)

A look back at one of hockey’s original bad boys. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $20,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Monday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

It looks like Henrik Lundqvist is OK. Does this mean he can play tonight?

Watch NHL players’ Super Bowl picks with the benefit of hindsight. Did anyone predict a “crippling goal-line interception that a team would never live down?”

Domingue gets first NHL win as Coyotes come back vs. Habs

2010 NHL Draft Portraits

Getting some relief time on Saturday is one thing, but starting a game was still a nerve-wracking experience for Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue. After a rocky opening stretch, he channeled those nerves into his first NHL win as the Coyotes edged the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Sunday.

At first, it definitely seemed like a laugher. Alex Galchenyuk beat Domingue twice within the opening five minutes to make it 2-0. The 22-year-old told the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan that he was a little rattled to start.

“The first five minutes [were] really hard,” Domingue said. “It was a lot of emotion to take in.”

There were plenty of emotions at the end, too. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston sets quite the scene:

The Coyotes carried much of the play on Sunday, firing 32 shots on goal to Montreal’s 20. Still, there was enough of a flurry at the end that Domingue faced some tense moments.

This represents just the second win for Arizona in 10 games, ending Montreal’s resourceful winning streak at five. Considering how miserably things have been going for the Coyotes, they might just want to see if Domingue can show a little more after grabbing his first career victory.

Steen, Blues hold on against Ovechkin, Capitals

St Louis Blues v Arizona Coyotes

On a milestone afternoon for Alex Ovechkin, it was the St. Louis Blues’ Alex (Steen) who ultimately got the last laugh.

Both forwards scored two goals on Sunday, but Steen also added an assist on Vladimir Tarasenko’s game-winner as the Blues beat the Washington Capitals 4-3. By taking this one, St. Louis continues its winning ways in the form of an 11-game point streak (10-0-1).

Take a look at Steen’s two goals below:

T.J. Oshie was right up there with Steen, generating three points of his own (all assists), along with four hits. Oshie’s most memorable check might have come in the first period when he seemed to leave Brooks Orpik a little groggy.

David Backes was ejected from the game for a boarding hit on Karl Alzner, who scored the 4-3 goal. A makeshift line of Tarasenko, Steen and Oshie played well enough to top the one-two punch of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Here’s a look at that Backes hit, which may draw supplementary discipline:

While this effort was better than the one that netted a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on Nov. 15, the bottom line is that the Capitals lost both games against the Blues in regulation. The Capitals have now dropped six of seven games, and while all of those defeats were by a single goal, this could be a stretch that Washington ends up regretting.

Head coach Barry Trotz doesn’t regret the way backup Justin Peters played, however.

As entertaining and competitive as this contest was, the two teams ultimately continue in their diverging paths.