The Montreal Canadiens have made tremendous strides since last season and enter the second half of this year firing on all cylinders. Montreal’s defense, led by Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and PK Subban have been a big part of Montreal’s success. With support from Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin, Francis Bouillon and even Tomas Kaberle, Montreal has not only been able to frustrate their opponents, they’ve also generated plenty of scoring opportunities from the point.
In net, Carey Price and Peter Budaj have done almost everything asked of them, namely giving the team a chance to win game in, game out. Last Thursday against Carolina, during the final game of the first half of Montreal’s season, Price pulled the Canadiens out of the second period with the game still intact even though the Habs were outshot 21-5, including an Eric Staal penalty shot. Price made 19 saves in the period and kept the game tied 2-2 when Staal got his penalty shot opportunity. In the end the Habs skated out of Raleigh with a 4-2 victory.
PK Subban: Grade A+
PK Subban gets top marks for doing several things right. First, he’s been a consistent presence on the scoreboard, picking up six goals and 18 points in 20 games. He’s also been a big help to Montreal’s power play, which is rolling along at 20% efficiency. PK has 13 points on the power play, trailing only Andrei Markov for the most power play points on the team.
But perhaps the most noticeable improvement for PK Subban this season has been his attitude. Coach Michel Therrien remains focused on a team first mentality and PK would seem the most likely candidate to go against the grain in that sense. Not only has Subban survived the transition from a flashy individual talent to a more restrained team player, he’s thrived.
Carey Price: Grade A+
Aside from a couple of outings this season that Price would rather forget, the young netminder has played lights out nearly every time he’s hit the ice. He leads the league with 13 wins in 20 starts, and has helped the Habs earn points in all but 3 starts this season.
Price has two shutouts, a .910 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average this season, but 18 of his 48 goals against came in three games. In the remaining 17 he’s given up just 30 goals, less than two a game. Price has been so good, he’s even tough to beat when he’s sitting on the bench as the Hurricanes discovered back in February.
Carey Price makes a sweet glove save sitting on the bench
Andrei Markov: Grade A
Andrei Markov came flying out of the gates in January picking up eight points in his first six games, all on the power play. Since then his production has died down somewhat, but he is currently riding a four-game scoring streak. Markov also leads all players with 15 power play points, tied with the likes of Sidney Crosby and ex-Hab Mike Ribeiro.
Markov has been asked to carry a heavy load for Therrien. He leads the team with over 635 minutes of total ice time, close to 100 minutes more than Josh Gorges in second on the team. He also averages two and a half minutes more per game than runner-up Subban. At times, Markov has looked a step behind the opposition, despite the Habs scoring 55 goals at 5-on-5 and allowing just 40 against.
Josh Gorges: Grade A
Josh Gorges has been a warrior for the Habs on the blue line. He leads the team with 60 blocked shots and leads the defense with a +6 plus/minus and just nine giveaways so far this season. Unsurprisingly, Gorges also has the most minutes on the penalty kill for the Habs. With almost 80 minutes logged on the penalty kill, Gorges has been on the ice for over half of Montreal’s total time shorthanded.
Gorges is not known to make highlight reel plays, but in the first period against the Canes last Thursday, the BC native made a rare dash towards the crease and, after receiving a fantastic backhand saucer pass from Brandon Prust, tucked away a nice backhand goal past Justin Peters.
Peter Budaj: Grade A
Peter “Ned Flanders” Budaj has only made 6 starts this season, but his solid play in support of Price makes him deserving of his A grade. Budaj is 4-1-1 and has gone his last five games without a regulation loss. Against Buffalo at the beginning of February, Budaj was 1.9 seconds away from securing a victory when the puck, and Budaj along with it, was shoved into the Montreal net.
Since then, Budaj has been a perfect 4-0-0, with one shutout and a big win against the Boston Bruins under his belt.
Alexei Emelin: Grade A-
It should come as no surprise that Alexei Emelin leads the Habs in hits at this point of the season. The 6’2” Russian defenseman has 88 checks, drawing just five minor penalties in the process. With two goals and 10 points in 26 games, Emelin has beaten his point totals from last season. His +4 rating so far this year is a significant from the -18 rating he finished with last season.
Francis Bouillon: Grade A-
For the second time in his career, Francis Bouillon was acquired by the Canadiens from the Nashville Predators at the start of this season and has been a solid addition to Montreal’s blue line. He’s chipped in with 41 hits and 27 blocked shots in 26 games, and has been used regularly on the power play and in shorthanded situations.
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.