The Canadiens are just past the midway point of the season and the team has looked absolutely fantastic so far. The Habs are currently third in the league in goals for, a big jump up from nineteenth last year and a big reason the team has been able to occupy the top spot in the East (aside from the extra games they’ve played over the Bruins).
With 26 games in the books, here’s a look at how Montreal’s impact forwards have fared so far this season. Brandon Prust and Brendan Gallagher earned top grades for the way they’ve shattered the expectations placed on them at the start of the season, but the rest of the offense isn’t too far behind.
Brandon Prust: Grade A+
Whatever the expectations were at the start of the season for new addition Brandon Prust, he’s surpassed them all. Touted mainly as a grit guy meant to bring some size and toughness to a Canadiens
team that’s been sorely lacking in that department, there were some initial reservations that GM Marc Bergevin may have overpaid for Prust when he signed him to a 4-year deal with a 2.5MM cap-hit per season.
With 4 goals and 5 assists in 25 games, 81 penalty minutes, 62 hits and a team high +13 rating, Prust suddenly looks like a tremendous bargain. He’s slated to miss two weeks with a shoulder injury suffered Saturday against the Lightning and you can bet Habs fans will breathe a sigh of relief when he makes it back into the lineup.
Brendan Gallagher: Grade A+
Brendan Gallagher also earns top marks for the Habs at the midway point, the youngster has been an absolute revelation for the Canadiens. 7 goals and 8 assists in 22 games places the 20-year old third in rookie scoring, making him a pretty good bet to be a Calder Trophy candidate at year’s end. Gallagher also has a knack for scoring at just the right time, 3 of his 7 markers have been game winners, which puts him in the top-10 of the league in that department.
But Gallagher hasn’t just been getting the job done offensively, the Edmonton native has been solid at both ends of the ice. Gally is second on the team in plus/minus with a +9 rating and has a mere 3 giveaways to go with his 11 takeaways so far this season.
Max Pacioretty: Grade A
Pacioretty had a bit of a slow start to the season going his first 10 games without a goal. But last year’s leading scorer for the Habs picked up his play in February and now leads the team with 21 points. On March 4, after big games against the Leafs, Pens and Bruins, Patches was named the NHL’s first star of the week. He picked up 4 goals and 3 assists in 4 games that week, earning at least 1 point in each game.
Patches showed off once again this year his penchant for making speedy recoveries. The former Michigan Wolverine underwent an emergency appendectomy on January 26. The surgery was expected to sideline the forward for 3-4 weeks, instead, just a week later Pacioretty was back on the ice picking up an assist and going +2 against the Ottawa Senators!
Tomas Plekanec: Grade A-
The Czech center got off to a great start this season earning 6 goals and 10 points in his first 10 games. He’s slowed down a bit since, but still makes regular appearances on the scoresheet. Plekanec, normally known as a playmaker, has lit the lamp 11 times this year, which would put him on pace for over 30 goals in an 82 game season. His career best is 29 in 2008-09.
Brian Gionta: Grade A-
After a difficult season dealing with injuries last year, Brian Gionta is back to his old tricks, namely, putting pucks in nets. Gionta has 9 goals this season, including 6 in his last 7 games.
Gionta notched a pair of goals in Montreal’s 7-6 overtime loss to the Penguins, one of which was the game-tying marker that sent the match to the extra frame. Gio also had a goal and an assist in each of the last two games, and played a big role Saturday night in the comeback win over the Lightning with two third period points.
Alex Galchenyuk: Grade B+
Montreal’s other rookie and last year’s number 3 overall pick hasn’t looked at all out of place in the big leagues despite the fact that he missed most of last year’s OHL season with a knee injury. Galchenyuk has 3 goals and 10 assists in 26 games. That puts him in a tie for fifth in rookie scoring along with last year’s top pick and his former Sarnia Sting teammate, Nail Yakupov. Chucky also has a respectable +7 rating making him one of just three of the top-10 scoring rookies to also have a plus rating, Brendan Gallagher and Chicago’s Brandon Saad are the others.
If there has been any criticism leveled at the rookie sensation it’s that he hasn’t been making the most of his scoring opportunities, often thinking pass first when shooting would be the higher percentage play. So whereas Gallagher has 60 shots in 22 games, Galchenyuk has just 41 in 26. But while Galchenyuk may be looking to dish too often, when his passes are on the mark the results can be spectacular.
Watch: Galchenyuk feeds Gallagher for a stunning goal against Martin Brodeur and the Devils
David Desharnais: Grade B+
Desharnais has shown flashes of brilliance this season, including a 2-goal performance to help the Habs beat the Bruins at the beginning of March, but he’s also been kept off the scoresheet for long stretches of the season. Desharnais is one of very few Habs to have a negative plus/minus rating, but 8 goals and 8 assists in 26 games isn’t too shabby in terms of production.
With the type of balanced scoring the Habs have displayed this season, it’s hard to be too critical of any one player, but it’s probably safe to assume that after picking up 60 points last year, David Desharnais expects a bit more out of himself than an average of less than two points for every three games.
Lars Eller: Grade B
Eller was called out by coach Michel Therrien at the start of the season with a message that his intensity wasn’t up to snuff. He watched a couple of games from the press box and returned with a new mentality. Last year’s Eller had 72 hits in 79 games, but Lars Eller version 2.0 has already picked up 42 in his 24 games this season.
With 14 points so far, Eller has a chance to improve on his career high of 28 points set last year. But his flashes of offensive brilliance have unfortunately been few and far between. Eller has two 3-point nights and three 2-point nights this season which is fantastic, but he’s also gone 17 games where he’s failed to find the scoresheet.
That wraps up the top forwards for the Habs. What are your thoughts, do you agree or disagree with the grades? Have your say in the comments below.
Also, check back tomorrow for a breakdown of Montreal’s defense and goaltending.
Rob has been blogging about the Habs since 2011 at MontrealHockeyTalk.com and can usually be heard before every Canadiens games on the MHT Pregame Show.