The Montreal Canadiens Mid-Season Report…

The Montreal Canadiens are pretty much where everybody thought they would be after 40 games, however, the path they followed to get there took a lot of fans by surprise.

Record

19-15-06 (44pts)

Division Rank

29-09-03 – Ottawa Senators

27-13-02 – Buffalo Sabres

24-15-03 – Toronto Maple Leafs

19-15-06 – Montreal Canadiens

16-20-06 – Boston Bruins

Conference Rank

Currently ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference, 1 point away from the 8th spot, with 3 games in hands on Tampa Bay (8th) and New Jersey (9th).

Other Stats

117 Goals For – 2.88 per game (21st in the NHL)

131 Goal Against – 3.25 per game (23rd in the NHL)

17.6% on the Power Play (16th in the NHL)

81.0% on the Penalty Killing (20th in the NHL)

30.7 Shots Per Game Average (9th in the NHL)

30.0 Shots Against Per Game Average (19th in the NHL)

Team Leaders

30gp – 10g – 21a – 31pts —> Saku Koivu

40gp – 18g – 11a – 29pts —> Michael Ryder

27gp – 08g – 19a – 27pts —> Alexei Kovalev

38gp – 07g – 19a – 26pts —> Mike Ribeiro

37gp – 05g – 20a – 25pts —> Andrei Markov

Key Injuries

Saku Koivu – Missed 10 games (Groin)

Alexei Kovalev – Missed 13 games (Knee Surgery)

Richard Zednik – Missed 9 games (Groin)

Sheldon Souray – Missed 5 games (Foot and Groin)

José Théodore – Missed 4 games (Knee)

Month-by-Month Recap

The Canadiens are lucky they got such a good start, keeping them in the race for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. How well will they do in the second half of the season…hard to say. So far, it’s been a real roller-coaster ride…

October

Record: 08-03-01 (17 points on 24)

The Canadiens looked good after a month, however, the general feeling in Montreal was that the Canadiens were lucky to have such a good start. 6 of the first 8 wins were by a 1 point margin, and Montreal fans knew that, eventually, this would become a problem. However, the Canadiens looked pretty good against top teams like Philadelphia and Ottawa, proving they could beat those teams. The Canadiens outshot their opponents in 9 of these 12 games, while keeping their opponent under 30 shots 8 times.

November

Record: 06-04-03 (15 points on 26)

Things started to get ugly for the Habs in November. Eventough the Canadiens managed to win the first 4 games of the month, something was not quite convincing. They pretty much stole 2 games against Buffalo in a home/away series, and all their wins were, again, by a 1 point margin. On November 14th, the Canadiens announced that Alexei Kovalev would need a knee surgery, and placed him on the injured list for the next 13 games. Koivu, Zednik and the others did what they could, but this injury seemed to shake their confidence quite a bit. On November 19th, the Canadiens lost an awful game to the Washington Capitals by a score of 5 to 1. This is where things started to decline.

December

Record: 04-06-02 (10 points on 24)

The Canadiens hit rock bottom…On December 1st, Saku Koivu suffered a groin injury, keeping him off the ice for 10 games. José Théodore went down too with a knee injury, and was forced to give his place to Crystobal Huet for 4 games. The Canadiens who used to find a way to win the close games couldn’t do it anymore, losing to struggling teams like Washington, again, and the Florida Panthers. With Koivu and Kovalev missing, Mike Ribeiro had to carry the offense, and failed to do it, leading a lot of fans to believe that he would be traded.

January

Record: 01-02-00 (2 points on 6)

With Koivu, Kovalev and Bonk back in the line-up, everybody in Montreal thought the Canadiens would be back on track. And maybe they would be if Jose Theodore would have made the key saves…or even, just the saves. Theodore let 3 of the first 4 shots go in against Pittsburgh, and let the very first shot of the game go in against New Jersey. The offense did what they could, but didn’t get a lot of help coming from the defense. 11 goals in 2 games is just too much for the Koivu, Kovalev and others…Crystobal Huet and Montreal’s defense had a solid game against Ottawa, finally giving a chance to Montreal’s fans to rejoice a bit…

Expectations For This Season

The Canadiens, just like all the NHL teams, have their faith in their hands. January isn’t going to be an easy month for them, and if they can get out of it with a .500 winning record, they could be okay. April is a crucial month for the Habs. They’ll meet the Bruins 3 times, and the Senators, the Sabres and the Devils twice. To be succesful, the Habs will need better performances from José Théodore. They have a decent offense, but they can’t expect to win more games than they’ll lose if Theodore don’t make the big saves. Bob Gainey could have a busy second half, the Habs are in need of something new…

Strenghts

The Canadiens have decent fowards, and a lot of depth. With young players such as Alexander Perezhogin, Thomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn already seeing valuable ice time this season, and prospects like Kyle Chipchura and Guillaume Latendresse, things could improve pretty quickly. They do have core players to help these kids, and a good leader in Saku Koivu. Andrei Markov is establishing himself as a true leader on defense, and I personally think that, someday, he’ll be considered for the Norris.

Weaknesses

Same as always…the Habs lack size and, sometimes, emotion. No doubt that Saku Koivu and Steve Begin are bringing it every night, but the Canadiens need a better and more constant effort from everyone on the team to be succesful. Is José Théodore there to stay ? Nobody knows…some say he should, some say we should trade him. One thing’s for sure, Théodore needs to find his game back, in Montreal or somewhere else. Mike Ribeiro is another one who’s on jeopardy right now. The Habs have been looking for a big right-handed center for years, and if they ever get it, Ribeiro will be sorry he didn’t take the opportunity to lead the team when Koivu was down. Sheldon Souray had a rough start this season, but he’s playing better now. He denied it, but I think his personal issues with his wife had something to do with his poor performances. Sure, he won’t post numbers like he did during the 03-04 season, but all we need is solid defense from him, and a goal here and there. The Habs could need more depth in defense, Mike Komisarek being the only valuable prospect we have.

The Future

Like I said previously, things are looking great for the Habs in the future. I really think Kyle Chipchura will be our next captain. He is a true leader (not only because he was Team Canada’s captain, but because that’s just who he is…) and I also think that Chris Higgins will eventually be an assistant. I know Thomas Plekanec really impressed Bob Gainey and Claude Julien, but I gotta say that Alexander Perezhogin and Andrei Kostitsyn were the biggest surprise for me.

Bob Gainey could be tempted to trade one of these prospects in return of a proven veteran, maybe in a package. Richard Zednik‘s future with the organisation seems to be uncertain, just like Mike Ribeiro. Niklas Sundstrom and Jan Bulis will become UFA at the end of the season, and I doubt the Canadiens will sign them to a new contract. If the young prospects are showing the can play in the NHL next year, don’t be surprise to see Gainey buyout Radek Bonk’s contract either. In a couple of years, the Habs line-up will look something like that;

Perezhogin – Koivu – Kovalev

Kostitsyn – Plekanec – Ryder

Latendresse – Chipchura – Higgins

Ferland – Begin – Murray

Markov – Komisarek

Souray – Rivet

Bouillon – Dandenault

Theodore

Danis

Price

And who knows who will be added to the team until then…

What I Would Do…Again !!!

I know some of you saw those “suggestions” in other articles, but I thought I would add them here…just to get more feedbacks on it I suppose. First thing I would do if I’m Bob Gainey; get some size. Viktor Kozlov in New Jersey or Michal Handzus in Philadelphia would be my first “targets”. The last time Montreal faced New Jersey, Kozlov was playing on the fourth line. I don’t really know what’s happening with him there, but he could be exactly what the Habs are looking for. He’s 6’5, and can play either center or left wing. I think he would be a good fit with Koivu and Kovalev. Handzus would be the ideal 2nd line center. There was some rumor, before Keith Primeau got injured, that the Flyers wanted to move him to make place to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. I don’t know what his status his now tough…

Division trades aren’t commun in the NHL, but I would still give a phone call to Buffalo’s general manager regarding Taylor Pyatt and Maxim Afinogenov The first one would be a great linemate to Steve Begin, while the other one would be an upgrade, in my opinion, to Richard Zednik.

Finally, I would also try to get in touch with Calgary’s general manager and try to get one of their defenseman. Earlier this season, the reports from Calgary were that they were willing to trade one of their defenseman (Jordan Leopold to be more specific) for a 1st or 2nd line center. I doubt the Canadiens have what the Flames are looking for, but it doesn’t hurt to ask…and maybe Bob Gainey did already, I don’t know…

That’s pretty much it…do I trade Theodore ? Am I keeping Mike Ribeiro ? Not a clue…it all depends on what I could get in return I guess.

Oh…and please try to get your hands on Ian Laperriere and Denis Gauthier. I still can’t believe Gainey didn’t even tried to get Laperriere when he was a free agent…but offered a $2.3m contract to Radek Bonk…