Gameday Preview: Buts? Pas Ici.

Robert Cleave
January 17 2011 08:14AM

The Flames head to one of my favourite cities on the continent for a meeting with Les Glorieux this evening, and one issue that we've discussed ad nauseum around these parts is equally at play for the hosts, since they can't throw it in the ocean on most evenings themselves.

The Habs are strikingly similar to Calgary in that they seem to perform many of the necessary activities in the build up before failing to finish on offence. Montreal outshoots their opposition by a decent margin at EV, along the lines of 3.5 shots/60, but they're finishing at the second worst rate in the league 5v5, converting only 6.4% of their shots.

As a point of reference, the scoring-challenged crew we nominally root for manages to shoot 7.7% 5v5, which isn't any hell in its own right. That inability to close the deal means that Montreal scuffles even with a very good PP% on its side, leaving the Habs 4th from bottom in goals per game at 2.47 per outing.

The Canadiens have, at least outwardly, an interesting way of arranging their matchups at forward. Scott Gomez has made his bones as the guy that takes on the toughs in terms of QComp, but that's not happening this season as Tomas Plekanec has assumed that role, taking on the best and facing significantly more D-Zone faceoffs in the process.

He and Brian Gionta are the guys that drive the Habs at EV, with Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn in support.

Our man Squid isn't having a banner year in Montreal by the boxcars, but for a guy that's been somewhat maligned as one that could only ride the percentages at EV, his overall numbers are OK. Not 6M a year quality, but there are worse guys out there.

He certainly can finish on the PP, though, and his overall shooting percentage might be due for an uptick. 9.7% isn't bad, but he's a guy that's finished at around 12% for his career, so if he breaks out a bit in the near future, it shouldn't be a surprise.

Where Montreal really falls off the pace at EV is when their top six are on the bench. Players like Travis Moen or Lars Eller shouldn't be world beaters, but they aren't getting buried in their own end and they still can't seem to gain any traction. Eller must seem like a particular disappointment since he was the prime return for Jaro Halak this summer.

I doubt he's a 3.9% shooter in the long term, but 51 shots in 41 games isn't much for a player that was expected to give the bottom of the roster a boost. 

The real issue for Montreal has been the injuries on the back end. Andrei Markov is a front line defender that might never be quite the same after a couple of knee injuries, and Josh Gorges is on the shelf for the year as well. That's left the Canadiens a bit thin on the blue, with the third pair's work over the last little bit prompting this from Olivier of En Attendant Les Nordiques:

Spacek et Weber ont encore eu l'air de deux cerfs pris dans les phares d'un truck.

Deer in the headlights, for us anglo types. The Habs have likely had to play P.K. Subban at a level above his current readiness, and although he's wildly entertaining at both ends on many nights, that's the sort of player that should be in your third pair exclusively. James Wisniewski, late of the Islanders, sort of fits that mold as well, although he's a bit farther along in his development.

Of course, if your goalie can operate at a high level, you can paper over a bunch of other weaknesses, and that's exactly what we've seen from Carey Price. He's posted a very nice .926 at EV thus far, outplaying his former battery mate Halak and generally being the player that's allowed Montreal to hang in there through the first half of this season.

Irrespective of the return for Halak, keeping Price has worked out, and Alex Auld has posted terrific numbers in his limited time to give Montreal a chance very night. 

Tonight, the Flames will play a team that has gotten by on their goalie SV%, but in fairness, Montreal likely does deserve better based on the play of their skaters. They generate a pile of shots when up a man, so their good PP is fairly derived, and they're very good at neutralizing shot attempts when down a man, so the solid performances of their special teams appears to be merited.

The Flames' special teams are pretty much where they belong on the merits as well, which might suggest that another night with 50-ish minutes spent at EV would be Plan A. That, and attack the bottom guys on the roster. I suspect a win for the Flames might well have to be of the same 1-0 variety as they managed on last year's visit.

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Robert Cleave is a perpetually grumpy Winnipegger.
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#1 negrilcowboy
January 17 2011, 10:50AM
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Hope Butter doesn't get schooled on matchups by Martin.Bench management will be crucial. 37 to go, and in need of 25 or so wins. These next 10 games are now the most critical. need to win 7 of 10 or its lights out.

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#2 Kent Wilson
January 17 2011, 11:33AM
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I wonder why MTL has kept Lars Eller on the big club this year? He's obviously in over his head.

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#3 icedawg_42
January 17 2011, 11:36AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I wonder why MTL has kept Lars Eller on the big club this year? He's obviously in over his head.

Ian Schultz will be the best asset out of St. Louis from that deal ;)

- yes, I'm a total homer when it comes to junior hockey.

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#4 MathMan
January 17 2011, 11:35PM
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@Kent Wilson

Why do you think Eller is in over his head, let alone "obviously"? He's a 9.8 relative Corsi, his scoring chances match to that, he was basically carrying the fourth line earlier in the season (I kid you not, they tried to use Dustin Boyd in his place once and the line was *butchered*. By *Ottawa*.) Since then he's slowly been ramping up, eating into Halpern's minutes. He's been up and down, as rookies are wont to be, but he's a NHL player.

Kid can't buy a goal, and he's getting sheltered but other than that, he's been fine. He probably shouldn't be getting Plekanec's comps at this stage, certainly, but I think Martin is trying to ease him up a step.

The kid is going to be very good, I for one am quite pleased with him.

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