Cole should provide some much needed even strength
Over the past 3 seasons it’s no secret that the Habs’ lack of success with 5-on-5 hockey has been their downfall. Special teams plays a huge part in games and can ultimately decide the final outcome of many but the bottom line is, if you can’t score at even strength you won’t be playing too long after May.
In the 2008-09 season, the Habs finished with the 11th best penalty kill and were 13th with the extra man although they were 17th at even strength. In 2009-10 only Washington had a better penalty kill and the powerplay moved up a spot to 12th, pretty impressive except for the fact that their even strength dropped to 22nd. Last season both special teams were among the top 10 in the league finishing 7th on the powerplay and the penalty kill. And although they moved up 5 spots to 17th at even strength they still couldn’t advance past the first round of the playoffs (against a Boston team that thrives at 5 on 5 but couldn’t score a powerplay goal to save their lives).
This season the arrival of Erik Cole could be what the Canadiens have been looking for to add some even strength success. He is just one player, but he is one player who can take a permanent spot on the top line with Plekanec and Cammalleri and put an end to the revolving door of wingers that included Benoit Pouliot, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche and Andrei Kostitsyn. Over the course of his career Cole has scored 133 of his 184 goals at even strength.
Here’s what the roster and the lines are looking like for the upcoming season and what means for the Habs effectiveness at even strength.
Gionta-Gomez-Pacioretty- Gionta has scored over 25 goals in his first 2 seasons in Montreal (28-29) and shows no signs of slowing down. Max Pacioretty is emerging as a dominant power forward and is set to have a breakout season and Scott Gomez will be looking to use Pacioretty and Gionta’s scoring prowess to bounce back from what was his worst statistical season since joining the league (and winning the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie) in the 1999-2000 season.
Cole-Plekanec-Cammalleri- Mike Cammalleri has still yet to peak as a member of the Canadiens and over the course of the summer has endured an intense workout regimen and recently became a father. Becoming a father may not seem like much in hockey but I can’t help but think that if it turned Mikhail Grabovski into a 30 goal scorer just think of what it can do for a player like Cammalleri.
Plekanec, who I believe is one of the NHL’s most under-rated players, continues to improve every year and he should benefit from having some consistency on his line for the first time since 2007-08 when he worked magic with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Kovalev (he will always be Alexei to me, Alex doesn’t feel right).
Cole is a power forward with size. He is a proven scorer with a nose for the net and his Stanley Cup ring doesn’t hurt.
Eller-Kostitsyn-…- Lars Eller and Andrei Kostitsyn clicked at the end of last season. Andrei can score when he feels like and i can’t help but feel that Eller will pot at least 15 goals this year although they still leave plenty to crave defensively.
Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche, David Desharnais and Ryan White will fill up the last spot on the third line as well as the fourth. With Cole added to the team, the Habs should be able to roll 3 lines with the ability to score, two of those, on a consistent basis.
The return of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges will be huge in allowing fewer goals 5-on-5. P.K. Subban’s defensive play improved drastically over the course of last season under the guidance of Hal Gill and he should continue to improve. Alexei Yemelin (Emelin? I’ve seen it spelled both ways) adds some grit.
I’m not as convinced as some people that the losses of James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik and Brent Sopel are going to devastate the defensive corps.
Markov, Subban and Yannik Weber more than make up for James Wisniewski on the PP. Sopel and Hamrlik never shied away from blocking shots but Weber and Subban’s youth bring more speed and enthusiasm to the blue line. With Hammer and Sopel out and Subban, Weber, Yemelin (and Diaz?) it’s less likely to see the Canadiens defence being out skated as much as last year.
Here is how the pairings might look-
Markov-Gorges (worked in the past)
Subban-Gill (Again, why change what works?)
Spacek-Yemelin (Yemelin just taking Hamrlik’s spot)
Weber and Woywitka will most likely be taking Spacek’s spot over the course of the year and I will be quite surprised if it isn’t Weber on most nights. Spacek isn’t getting any younger and Weber continues to develop into the player Habs fans have been waiting for him to be.
If Carey Price can mirror last year’s numbers then all Peter Budaj will need to do is match Auld’s play from last season to pull his weight on the team. I’m not entirely sold on Budaj but the D in front of him should be able to help him out in the 12-15 games he’ll start.
In this blog and my last I’ve covered what to expect from the Habs at even strength and on the power play. I’ll be posting my thoughts on the penalty kill next. Not so sure I’ll be as optimistic as I’ve been so far…
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