With 41 games in the books, the Montreal Canadiens first half of the 2014-15 season is officially over. The team has had its ups and downs thus far, but ultimately sit near the top of the Eastern
Conference standings. With a record of 26-12-3, the Habs have 55 points, and are on pace to reach 110 by season’s end, which would be their highest total since 1989.
With the first half in the books, I evaluated each player’s performance, and assigned a letter grade to each of the forwards. I felt that a player should have played at least 20 games to be fairly assessed, so I haven’t given a grade to Michael Bournival, Sven Andrighetto or Christian Thomas.
Also, the ranking takes into account each player’s expectations and the role they play. You can’t fault Brandon Prust for not having as many points as Max Pacioretty, but you can hold low point totals against offensive players. Prust plays his role very well and is ranked accordingly.
Max Pacioretty A
Expectations were very high for Pacioretty entering this season, and after 41 games he is exactly on pace to meet those lofty standards. After finishing fourth in goals last season with 39, the big American winger has 18, and will hit 36 if he keeps up his current pace.
It’s not just his offense that makes Pacioretty so valuable to the Habs. Max has become a fixture on the Canadiens penalty killing unit as well, and is showing a strong two-way game that was not evident in the past. He leads the team in goals (18), points (33) and plus minus (+22).
He also teamed up with shorthanded linemate Tomas Plekanec for one of the nicest Habs goals of the season.
Which brings us to…
Tomas Plekanec A-
Plekanec has played his typical steady two-way game for the Habs all season. Always relied upon to play against the opposing team’s best players, and saddled with a plethora of linemates once again, Plekanec continues to find ways to succeed.
A fixture on the penalty kill that is ranked 6th in the NHL, Plekanec is also second on the Habs in goals with 11, and fourth in points with 26. Currently on pace for 52 points this season, Plekanec is not going to win an Art Ross Trophy, but the Canadiens would be in major trouble without his contributions at both ends of the rink.
Alex Galchenyuk B+
Still figuring out how to be a consistent NHL player, Galchenyuk is slowly making the transition from left wing to center. The 20 year old former third overall pick played well enough to earn a promotion to the first line, but has not scored a goal in his last seven games, and has just two points in his last six while earning prime ice time with Pacioretty.
The young American forward has shown flashes of absolute brilliance, including a hat trick against the Caroline Hurricanes. However, when it appeared he had earned his spot as the first line center, he struggled and found himself centering Brandon Prust and P.A. Parenteau at practice this week.
Brendan Gallagher B+
Gallagher has played exactly how most Habs fans would have expected him to this season. His well earned reputation as a pugilist who does not let his small stature hold him back has been on display all season, and he continues to chip in offense as well. On pace for a 20 goal, 20 assist season, Gallagher is an excellent complementary player on one of the Canadiens top two lines.
Jiri Sekac B+
Sekac had many suitors in the summer but ultimately chose to sign as a free agent with the Canadiens. It was uncertain what to expect from a European free agent about to make his NHL debut, but Sekac has exceeded most people’s expectations. The Czech Republic native has shown solid chemistry playing primarily with Lars Eller and Prust, but also when used with countryman Plekanec as well. His 15 points in 34 games have him on pace for 35 points this season, but he has transitioned well to the NHL game, and will provide valuable depth to the Habs in the second half, especially as he becomes more comfortable in North America.
I said a month before training camp that Jiri Sekac is a top 6 fwd, and he'll be there before year's end. I was berated. I still believe
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 12, 2015
Brandon Prust B
Prust has not taken a shift off yet this season, and has done everything that has been asked of him. He is not an offensive dynamo, but was not expected to be one, so his 11 points in 41 games is not a problem. He is the Habs most physical forward, and also plays frequently on the successful penalty kill. Prust has moved up from his fourth line role at times, and played well with Eller and Sekac on the third line.
Dale Weise B
When the season began, Weise was penciled in by everyone on the fourth line, and it was thought he may have a difficult time fighting off Michael Bournival for a consistent spot in the lineup. Fast forward half a season and Weise has a surprising 15 points in 38 games, one point shy of his career best. He is not going to find himself on the power play anytime soon, but the Habs 12th forward on opening night has four points in the last five games, is an excellent skater and helps out while shorthanded.
David Desharnais B-
Desharnais proved most Habs fans right this season, by not performing well enough to keep his role as the team’s first line center. After scoring just two goals in his first 30 games, Desharnais was demoted to third line left wing. However, the diminutive forward has played well on the wing, scoring ten points in his last 18 games.
He is still excellent in the faceoff circle, and has shown he can contribute offense from the third line, which could give the Canadiens valuable depth in the second half of the season.
Lars Eller B-
Eller is a difficult player to rank. He always seems to be playing well, and has developed into one of the best faceoff men in the league. However, his offense comes in brief spurts, and he does not play very physical, especially considering he is the biggest center on the team.
The 6’2” native of Denmark also doesn’t get much time on the power play, so it is tough to knock him for not scoring more from his third line role. However, he is on pace to barely top the 30 point barrier, though that would be a career high. He has been good, not great, and I would like to see a little more, especially offensively.
P.A. Parenteau C+
When Parenteau was acquired for Daniel Briere, it was thought to be a huge steal for the Canadiens. Parenteau started the year on the top line with Pacioretty and Desharnais, but slumps and streaks have seen him bounce around the lineup all season. With 15 points in 38 games he is on pace to barely surpass 30 points this season, and it was hoped he would be a solid top six scorer.
Parenteau’s skills have been valuable in the shootout, where his four game winners have provided a handful of extra points for the Canadiens this season. With a 4 million dollar salary and a chance to start the year on the first line, a lot more was expected from Parenteau.
Manny Malhotra C-
If just winning faceoffs was enough to make a player an everyday NHLer, former Hab Yanic Perreault never would have retired. Malhotra is still an elite faceoff man, in fact his 61.9 winning percentage is first in the league, but it takes more than that to be a successful NHL player. Malhotra has not helped out in a defensive role like it was suspected he would, as the team is routinely hemmed in their own zone when he is on the ice.
Though a huge offensive season was not in the cards from day one, more than one point in 38 games would be a boost. No one in the NHL can win a faceoff like Malhotra, but he is now a one trick pony and more was expected out of the veteran.