Thursday, September 17, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview:

Third Line Offense

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, Maxim Lapierre's third line:

S Kostitsyn – Lapierre – D'Agostini

Maxim Lapierre

08-09 (MTL)79151328+9120.771.441659.176
07-08 (MTL)5371118+5000.601.556810.360
06-07 (MTL)466612-7020.681.37827.324

Even-strength profile

  • Average GF at even strength

  • Above average GA at even strength (Team best)

  • Poor at preventing chances against even strength

  • Negative CORSI: -5.7


Stats notes

I don't need to announce Maxim Lapierre's good season here. His evangelical following have already made short work of that task. Some of the intricacies of his game last year, however, are quite interesting; not to mention his career to date. To wit:

1) Goals and points per 60 pretty stable
Max's stats took a jump last year, but his pro-rated production was in the same ballpark. Simply put, he got more goals and points because he played more games and more minutes in those games. The implication for the future is that he may stabilise at this point, or may suffer if Martin uses him less than Carbo did.

2) Excellent plus/minus vs. poor Corsi
A few possible explanations here. Either Max did something special with his line to make all those chances he allowed less threatening to the goalie. Else he played against people who can't shoot straight. Or, he plain got lucky. Evidence from the shots component of the analysis (where the 28 SA/60 is above league average) says he didn't do anything too special. Something he did though must have been to the liking of Price and Halak who out did themselves with a 0.935 S% when he was on – something they didn't afford those teammates they didn't like as much as Max. I'd suggest there was a bit of luck as well.

3) Game-winning goals
Though I expect Max's goal total to drop, I think his GWG will be stable if not increase. I say that because that's the kind of player I think he is – scorer of important goals. Witness 2 out of 6 goals for game winners as a rookie on the fourth line.

Statistical regression is a bad term in the NHL, but it needn't be. If a team is scoring enough goals from the top lines, it doesn't need players like Max to chip in with their own. It needs players like Max to do the other things they do well. From this profile, Max is a player that shoots OK, passes fine and plays a game that more often than not benefits his team. Tip the chances for/against back the other way at the expense of goals scored, and I think he's an even more valuable player.

Tobalev on Lapierre:

Max comes into this season in a far different spot than he has ever been before. No longer is he the hometown hopeful, he is now becoming, in a way, the face of this team. He has never had to deal with this kind of pressure before and has always thrived in that ‘no-expectation’ world. He is now being counted on by a whole province to be a leader both on and off the ice. Will 12 goals be good enough after 15 last year? When the expectations are 5 goals and a roster spot most everything seems like a bonus. When expectations are 20+ goals and to be a dominant shut-down force – the game changes. Personally, I think he liked the Steve Begin role of unsung hero, will he like his new role? I really hope that he at least plays as well as last year, if not better, but wouldn’t be shocked if this career 3rd/4th liner returned to a very decent background-type player.

I think that he will start the season as our 3rd line centre. This is a role that I believe, in an ideal world, is filled by a slightly better player than Max at his stage of development. In fact, if things look rosy for the playoffs, I wouldn’t even be surprised if we upgraded at this position. 15 goals and 13 assists was a huge accomplishment, but he would have to do a lot better in his all around game to be an elite 3rd liner. I think he will take a slight step back offensively this year and will score between 7-13 goals. He won’t see much PP time or have very good goal-scoring linemates, so there may be less assists too.

All told, Max is a valuable voice and player on this team and his work ethic is unmatched by any on the team. That alone means I would have him up all year. Even if his numbers go down I don’t see his effectiveness in other areas (agitation, defensive play, penalty-killing) being too adversely affected.

Where Lapierre will start 2009-10: Team poster boy

Where Lapierre will end 2009-10: Mature checking centre who scores important goals

Points: 11 G, 13 A, 24 Pts

Matt D'Agostini

08-09 (MTL)5312921-17311.011.7711610.016
07-08 (MTL)1000E000.000.0000.02

Even-strength profile

  • Poor offensive and defensive results on the ice (GF/GA) at even strength

  • Top 20% in creating chances at even strength

  • Below average defense

  • Positive CORSI: +2.1 (Best on the Habs)


Stats notes

After watching D'Agostini play, I would never have guessed at that colourful a profile for the guy. Here's what interests me:

1) Best Corsi on the team
Is this even possible? His positive Corsi is fuelled by the excellent creation of offensive shooting opportunities by his lines. Amazingly, more shots than not also went on net (54% – which is high for the Habs). Certainly a valuable stat to add.

2) Atrocious plus/minus
Polar opposite of Max here. It seems like Matt, on average was hard done by – by both his goalie and the oppositions. Usuaully a positive Corsi provides would correlate well to a positive plus/minus (why else would we be bothering with it, after all?). Matt's high chance creation actually resulted in below average goal production – he did play with Dandenault and Laraque a bit. The goalies let him down badly too – to the tune of 0.877.

3) 12 goals as a rookie
I bring up this stat because it clouds the profile. Behind the number we should remember that Matt scored 8 goals in what seemed as many shifts to start his NHL career with gusto beside Saku Koivu. After he was placed with lesser passers, he struggled.

An interesting player with interesting stats. Though, there were 8 goals with Koivu, you can't just throw 12 goals out the window. After all, we're putting a 14 goal man on line #2. Also, if his luck improves, Matt's propensity to produce more chances than he permits will be an asset to any line he's on – regardless of how many goals he eventually produces.

Tobalev on D'Agostini

Marcel Hossa or Michael Ryder? It is hard to tell with Matt which way he will go really. He was never touted as a can’t-miss prospect and I think we would all admit that his play was a very pleasant surprise. So, if he faded away, back to Hamilton and beyond I wouldn’t be too shocked. The Habs, however, seem to have turned a corner in the way they develop their youngsters and I am thinking that, unlike many before him, he will be given his fair chances by the new coaches.

I see D’Agostini playing some of the year on one of the top 2 lines, but I don’t really see him sticking. The problem then becomes the fact that he isn’t yet an ideal 3rd or 4th liner, so where does he go? Aside from some top-2 line action I would expect us to see him, despite where I would place him, on the 3rd line and even back with the ‘Dogs for a period. Being realistic I think we have a potential Chris Higgins here, but he needs time. He is a player that should focus on his two-way game if he ever wants a permanent NHL job. I could see him getting 30 points this year, but wouldn’t be at all shocked if he got less than 20, maybe even less than 10.

Where D'Agostini will start 2009-10: Least sexy choice for the forward line up

Where D'Agostini will end 2009-10: A fixture on the team

Points: 10 G, 12 A, 22 Pts

Sergei Kostitsyn

08-09 (MTL)5681523-3510.611.747411.064
07-08 (MTL)5291827+9300.722.174918.451

Even-strength profile

  • Average offensive chances and conversion even strength

  • Even player, with low events while on ice

  • Bottom 20% in chance prevention at even strength

  • Negative CORSI: -12.0 (Worst among Habs forwards not named Laraque)


Stats notes

Another mixed bag of stats. Sergei's stats present a few things that stand out for me:

1) Low shots
Low shot totals for him personally and then, obviously, for the lines he's a part of. If the new philosophy is to shoot more, Sergei will have to learn a new skill. Low shots also translates into goals and assists for Sergei as he posts twice as many assists as goals – much preferring the pass, even though he has a respectably good shooting percentage.

2) Good plus/minus
Last year, -3 in a tumultuous year. Rookie season, +9. It's good stuff and points to some attraction to the defensive aspects of hockey. Obviously, his tendency from last year to be on the ice for more than a chance a minute (like most Habs) has to be curbed, but PK and defensive line are words that don't seem a foreign concept for Sergei – unlike his brother.

3) PIM too high
If the immaturity of Sergei can be captured in any on-ice highlight, it would be him slashing someone who has stripped him of the puck. Frankly I think his PIMs are too high for his role and playing time.

The low event player profile that follows Sergei is a bit strange, given his junior days. But watching him play, I can see why he, like Kovalev produces less shots per minute ice time than others. His current statistical profile gives him a good brief to play for that last top 6 spot. Potentially focusing more on his defensive fortes will make him a lock for the third line.

Tobalev on Sergei Kostitsyn

I am not about to forget that Sergei, at the age of 22, already has 50 NHL points in only 108 games. Considering all of the downs and controversies he has lived through that is still pretty impressive. The bad times, to me, however, are the problem. He has to stay out of trouble (both on and off the ice) if he really wants to stick with the big club. He has tons of potential and he even seems to thrive (at times) in this environment. The coaches should focus much of their efforts on Sergei as we don’t have many players like him; young, great hockey sense, good passer, strong defensively.

Right now, I like Sergei’s chances at getting that last spot amongst the top-6 forwards. He, as well as Guillaume, are the logical prime-candidates, but both still have a lot to prove. I think, if he focuses more on hockey than anything else, Sergei will spend the entire year in the NHL. He has proven to be a valuable 2-way player that has enough flare to keep things interesting. 20 goals isn’t too far-fetched, but I think 10-15 is a safer bet. I am also hoping that his passing numbers will increase and I would like to see him get over 25 assists. To me this is the year he has to prove that he is Sergei K. and not simply Andrei’s younger brother.

Where S Kostitsyn will start 2009-10: Battling for a job

Where S Kostitsyn will end 2009-10: Out of his brother's shadow

Points: 9 G, 23 A, 32 Pts

As a line

Line #3Effect O/D

C – Maxim Lapierre
  • Helped most linemates be better defensively
  • Most linemates lessened offensive output
  • Played best overall with Guillaume Latendresse last season
RW – Matt D'Agostini
  • Seemed to make more skilled players better offensive players
  • Made almost all his linemates worse defensive players
LW – Sergei Kostitsyn
  • Helped most common linemates be better offensively
  • IMproved most defensive games
  • Played best with brother Andrei last season

Unless Jacques Martin makes one of two grave mistakes, Max Lapierre will start the season as the centre for the third line. Who then should he be playing with?

As hard as it was for Max, I thought for Guillaume's and the team's benefit, Latendresse needed to be recognised for his offensive potential. That, teamed with Kostopoulos' departure means Lapierre needs a new line. Though briefly tempted to slot TK's replacement straight in on the third line, a look at Moen's stats (you'll see) made me scupper that idea in a hurry. So depth being what it is, next in was Matt D'Agostini. D'Agostini makes the grade for a number of reasons, not least of which is Max Pacioretty's waiver exemption.

Though Pacioretty may in theory provide a slight upgrade, D'Agostini does actually have more NHL experience and a half-decent record at turning the ice in his team's favour. Of course, I am assuming here that this line is not in the strictest sense as checking line for the whole season.

Finally, the wild card – Sergei Kostitsyn. For all his petulance, PIMs and sulks, Sergei actually plays a good offensive and defensive game and on average makes those he's on the ice with better players for the team. With D'Agostini in there, Sergei provides the balance of puck holding to wild shooting, defence to offense and studied approach to impetuousness.

There you have it: line #3 as I'd like to see it.

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

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