Thursday, September 17, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview:

Second Line Offense

Next up, here is the preview of the Canadiens second line:

Latendresse – Plekanec – Cammalleri

Tomas Plekanec

08-09 (MTL)80201939-9620.871.692029.954
07-08 (MTL)81294069+151261.192.8318615.642
06-07 (MTL)81202747+10510.932.1815013.336

Even-strength profile

  • Low offensive production for a top line centre

  • Above average chances generated at even strength

  • Below average defensive play at even strength, chances and goals

  • Near neutral CORSI: -1.4 (4th on the Habs)


Stats notes

Had I written this report on Plekanec in either of the seasons previous to this one, it's fair to say it would have been glowing. Though last season was disappointing, the numbers Tomas put up still tell the tale of what kind of player he is and can be:

1) His CORSI number was high relative to his peers
Yes Plekanec had a decline in numbers, but what his Corsi shows me is what I'd read from his play – that actually his play varies little in goalscoring slump or spree. Relative to the team, Tomas was actually a player the Canadiens could count on last season to tip the play (if not goals) in their favour. Team chance differential was 5.2 shots a game more in their favour for the minutes Plekanec was on the ice than not. What that meant in real terms is that when Tomas was on, chances were just about even at both ends, when he was off the Habs were letting the other team drive.

2) 69 goals in 3 seasons – 3 20+ goal seasons
No other Habs player can boast this kind of production, or indeed consistency.

3) 19 assists last season
When The Score Forecaster asked me for a stat to sum up 2008-09 for the Habs, I chose Plekanec's 19 assists as the standout. Can you imagine any other top line centre on a line that ended up scoring 69 goals, who actually prefers passing to shooting, ending a season with 0.25 assists a game? And it really is this aberration that makes Plekanec's season look like the absolute dud that it did. Chip in another ten (which might have happened if Kovalev weren't examining his soul and Kostitsyn undertaking police interviews at the time when Tomas got hottest) and he'd be under his potential, but closer to the ballpark.

For those alarmed that we've entrusted another season of scoring duties to a fading Plekanec, pull up your boots. As the second line centre, 20 goals a season is respectable across this league. What's more less top checking against him has always been a boon for PLeks. The stats don't point to another 2007-08 really, but 20+ goals and 30-40 assists should easily be in the cards.

Tobalev on Plekanec:

Kovalev is gone, Koivu is gone and the list goes on. That means, Tomas, that it is time to step up and be a dominant player/leader on this team. Pleks is no longer a shining prospect or ‘pleasant surprise’, he is now being counted on for real – or else. After what was a hard year for the Czech, he must come into this season with a positive, winning attitude. I am tired of seeing a defeated man after a missed shot or a hanging head following another loss. He has the speed, ability and talent to excel at this level and I think Gainey has got him plenty of help this year to bring all of that out of him.

I expect Pleks to bounce back to 07-08 form this year and forget all about last season. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he actually out-scored Gomez and was indeed our #1 centre. I don’t however, think that will happen, not this year. What I do think, though, is that he will put up 60 (give or take) points and somewhere near 20 goals. I think we’ll see a more confident player than the one that used to live in the shadows and this should translate into a much more balanced attack. I think where we will really notice him this year is on the special teams. I believe that he will be one of our top penalty-killers and I am certain that he will play a regular shift on the PP all season long.

Where Plekanec will start 2009-10: Trade rumour pages

Where Plekanec will end 2009-10: With many more fans on his side

Points: 23 G, 36 A, 59 Pts

Mike Cammalleri

08-09 (CGY)81394382-21961.643.4625515.044
07-08 (LA)63192847-161010.912.262109.030
06-07 (LA)81344680+51651.403.2829911.448

Even-strength profile

  • Deep crimson (i.e., elite) offensive numbers at even strength

  • Well above average chance prevention at even strength

  • Average GA when on the ice at even strength

  • Impressive CORSI: +12.2 (Better than Iginla)


Stats notes

Unlike Pleks, Mike can look at his numbers from last season and count on flattery. Here is what stands out for me:

1) Superb overall production
3.46 points per 60 minutes for Mike, 1.64 goals per 60, 3.3 goals for his team for every 60 minutes he's on the ice. These numbers stack up with the elite. His 19 powerplay goals would have surpassed the Canadiens at the half-season mark. To think his even strength.

2) Defence I can live with
There's always a trade off with offensive players like this – the expectation that a machine-gunning approach at one end will inevitably lead to lots of goals and chances at the other. The pleasant surprise is that Mike might have learned to tame that in Calgary. He managed to allow less than the average chances slip by with his linemates and even though he was playing in front of the for-once porous Kiprusoff (0.903's not a Vezina submission anymore), he was in the average at GA when on the ice.

3) Similarity between CGY 08-09 and LA 06-07
All this "Can he play without Iginla?" is ridiculous considering he has two 80 point seasons and two 30+ goal seasons in 3 years. His 2008-09 campaign answered the critics for 2006-07, and proved he can be a near 1.5 G/60 type guy. Maybe it's Iginla who should be worrying?

An offensive player through and through, who we hope might have learned something from a year in Sutterton. This year will tell if he's a year-on, year-off type player, and will probably see him settling to the production zone he'll keep up for these prime years. A look further back in his history will show that 19 goals is more anomalous than perhaps 39 or 34 were. Mind you, flirting with even in the +/- might also be out of the ordinary.

Tobalev on Cammalleri

Mike did well to cash out this summer as he really saved his best season for when it counted. I for one hope that he can repeat his 39-goal performance this season, but I can’t really see it happening. It seems that players’ production levels head south when they play for the Habs (Tanguay, Samsonov, Bonk, Johnson etc.) and I think I see it happening all over again. So the question is will the fans and media be happy with 35 goals? 30? My guess is no, so it all comes down to Mike. Kovalev was the perfect player for this environment as he always bounced back from criticism and boos, whereas Samsonov was the polar opposite. I predict that Mike will fall somewhere in between the two; somewhere where his play will be affected by the negativity, but not so much that he won’t score at all.

I would look for Mike to lead our team in goals and be a driving-force on the PP. Don’t expect too much in his own end, however, from the career -30 man. I could see him getting 40+ goals, but I could also see him getting below 30 as it all depends on his start and how the city warms to him. If he can create some chemistry with Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec or Kostitsyn before November 1st then he (as well as all of us) will enjoy his time in Montreal that much more.

Where Cammalleri will start 2009-10: First potential Canadiens 40-goal man in a decade

Where Cammalleri will end 2009-10: PP engine and more rounded ES player

Points: 33 G, 36 A, 69 Pts

Guillaume Latendresse

08-09 (MTL)56141226+4121.102.0511712.045
07-08 (MTL)73161127-2231.071.8111613.841
06-07 (MTL)80161329-20530.951.7312113.247

Even-strength profile

  • Above average offensively at even strength

  • A rare green patch on the Canadiens – above average in GA at even strength

  • Below average on preventing chances against the Montreal end

  • Neutral CORSI: -0.2 (2nd on the Habs)


Stats notes

You could go many ways in interpreting these stats. Many numbers show clear decline, despite the progress that Gui is touted for. On the other hand, there is some stability within them too. The things to note:

1) Gui shoots straight
It's perhaps not that surprising that the skill that got him to the NHL is the one that stands out. 12.0% in an off year is not a stat I'd ever sneeze at.

2) Good production at even strength, considering
About a goal every 60 minutes of ice time is a good average to carry in you NHL career. Considering Gui's been bumped around lines a lot, not been given primo PP time and played with chance sink Kostopoulos a lot last year, then I find that encouraging. Hopefully he keeps up the pace.

3) Wonky even strength profile
As much as I'd like to think that Gui is one of the best defensive forwards on the team, the fact that I do have eyes helps me over the feeling. His profile shows us the danger of taking things out of context. Last season, Gui played at all the right times and missed the worst Price/Halak had to offer. Has it skewed the profile? Is Guillaume really 2nd best in Corsi? Perhaps the Canadiens lost all those games because he was injured? Impossible to tell for certain in a one-off experiment, but again, we do all have eyes, and sense.

As we've mentioned, 2009-10 is a big season for Latendresse. Because let's face it, another 14-16 goal campaign, while fine, certainly doesn't add to the lustre of the future 30-goal man argument. And, if it is to be 15 goals a year from here on in, then someone, somewhere is bound to surpass him, at least in terms of potential.

His shooting accuracy teamed with a new approach to shooting more should help. His defensive game and any improvement in the purpose of his hitting will make this line a very threatening one.

Tobalev on Latendresse

For some reason I am excited about Latendresse this year. Maybe it is because I see him as the best of the players from my home province, maybe it's because he is one of the longest serving Habs, or maybe it is because I actually sense a big season coming on. Whatever happens with goals and assists, Latendresse is still a player that wants to play for the Habs and generally tries pretty hard, despite some talent shortcomings.

Unfortunately for Gui, however, nothing is guaranteed. There are signs, after all that point to him not having that great of a season. His production levels have been stable for 3 years, he seems to be getting slower and he may very well get crowded out of the top-6/PP.

On the positive side, I think his new status on the team (best Quebecer) will help him, especially early in the season. Many fans and new teammates will look to him now as a leader and not just a prospect. If he can get in Martin’s good books and get himself onto a scoring line early on then I could see him there all year. If he makes the most of these chances when provided, the outlook could brighten in a hurry – I really think he could score 25 goals.

The more likely scenario, however, is that he gets bounced between the top 3 lines and into/out of the PP (thanks to injuries, slumps etc.). This will hurt his production and that is why I think he’ll likely top out at 30-35 points with most of those coming as goals.

Where Latendresse will start 2009-10: Carrying the torch for millions

Where Latendresse will end 2009-10: With a new appreciation for what he can do in this league

Points: 21 G, 24 A, 45 Pts

As a line

Line #2Effect O/D

C – Tomas Plekanec
  • Helped some linemates be better offensively, some worse
  • Helped some linemates be better defensively, some worse
  • Offense was always at the expense of defence and vice versa
  • Played best overall with Kovalev last season
RW – Mike Cammalleri
  • Made scorers better offensive players
  • Made defensive forwards into worse offensive producers (strange)
  • Made most linemates worse defensive players
  • Played best overall with Matthew Lombardi last season
LW – Guillaume Latendresse
  • Potentiates offensive game of skilled players
  • Made many linemates better defensively (most not returning though)
  • Played best overall with Koivu last season

Just as Gomez was the point of departure for line #1, so Plekanec is pencilled in first for line #2. Cammalleri is next in, since he's a top line forward, and we opted not to put him on the "#1" line this time. Even so, Cammalleri's profile overall points to him being able to do things independently, and I think that could be a good thing for Plekanec. The difference in approach (i.e., using the puck quickly vs. holding the puck) should also suit PLeks, who's often quick to be in the right place when loose pucks appear.

Third man in to line #2 is the lucky dip. Between Sergei Kostitsyn, D'Agostini, Pacioretty and Latendresse. In the end, Guillaume's profile just stands up like a second liner. His goal rate is good and could improve, his accurate shot could be handy if Cammalleri creates masses of rebounds. Latendresse also adds a bit of size, and maybe even grit if he decides to – something the other three can't offer to the same extent. I feel it's his place to lose in the next few days.

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

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