Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview

Top Line Offense

As expected, here is the preview of the Canadiens top line:

A Kostitsyn – Gomez – Gionta

Scott Gomez

08-09 (NYR)77164258-2370.592.152715.960
07-08 (NYR)81165470+3730.602.612426.636
06-07 (NJ)72134760+7410.572.642485.242

Even-strength profile

  • Above average GF and GA at even strength

  • Among league leaders in creating chances for shots at even strength

  • Good at preventing chances against even strength

  • Impressive CORSI: +16.2


Stats notes

You can't glean everything from stats, and the game remains to be played on the ice. However, some interesting things jump out of Gomez's stats here for me:

1) Gomez is insanely good at creating shots
65.9 shots directed at the net per shift for the Gomez line last season is very near the top of the league. Very few players take more shots than Gomez, very few lines can count on more than one shot released a minute.

2) Gomez is consistently one of the worst shooters in the league
Gomez himself seems to be an atrocious shooter. Nearly 800 shots to 45 goals over the past 3 seasons, and at a relatively consistent average.

3) Nevertheless, his approach tips the ice in his team's favour
His offensive chances are based on defense, not at the expense of defence. Elite scoring shot generation with average number of shots allowed. It's not bad for an offensive line at all – in fact, Gomez's CORSI number (the difference between those two pie segments is an outstanding

Not having seen enough of Gomez, I am starting to form a picture of what I'll be seeing based on all this. I think far from being the orthodox playmaker who holds the puck and makes those seeing eye passes (Marc Savard, for example); Gomez will likely be using quick shots on net as a tool to create the plays, as well as passing. An assist is an assist is an assist, after all. But for this kind of playmaker, the shooters must be right.

Tobalev on Gomez:

First off, to be fair to Scott and to you, we have to get over a few things here. Let’s look at Scott the hockey player and forget the salary, forget the expectations that we have for a #1 centre and forget how he was brought to the team and who left to make that possible. When we look at Gomez the player we see a vastly different story to when we look at Gomez the NYR UFA/MTL Huge-Acquisition.

In Scott we have a player who has some serious credentials; he has been a number one centre, he has won the Cup and he has been one of the best playmaking centres over the past 5-10 years. Now, at age 29 I think he has some great years ahead of him and I think he’ll certainly be able to do what Kovalev did when he came from the Rangers; excel in a hockey-mad environment. I believe that he will handle the media well and will be liked by the fans which should help him get over the first hurdle of playing in Montreal - I then think he will be our offensive leader.

He may not lead us in points, goals or assists, but I believe that he will be the engine of our team this year. I would still, however, expect at least 65 points. That may not sound like a lot – and, in Montreal, it kind of is.

Where Gomez will start 2009-10: First line centre with huge expectations

Where Gomez will end 2009-10: First line centre with a season of game changing nights

Points: 16 G, 56 A, 72 Pts

Brian Gionta

08-09 (NJ)81204060+12310.872.622488.132
07-08 (NJ)82223153+1840.882.122578.646
06-07 (NJ)62252045-31141.282.3119412.936

Even-strength profile

  • Top tier offensive production and chance generation at even strength

  • Top 20% in preventing chances at even strength

  • Good defensive record

  • Positive CORSI: +10.9


Stats notes

Not used to looking at all this deep red and green – oh what it must be like to watch a team that believes in creating more chances than you allow like NJ. Here's what I see when I look at the data on Gionta:

1) Gionta's shooting percentage dropped in 2007-08
Coincident with a certain player leaving, Gionta's shooting dropped, and for two seasons now. As NJ shifted the point of attack from Elias-Gomez to Parise, Brian had to make adjustments. I wonder if perhaps the way Gomez peppers the net was missed by Brian for some percentage raising tap ins.

2) It's all positive at even strength
Top fifth in GF, ChF and ChA per 60 minutes for the Gionta line last season. His only slip was in actual GA, but a figure like 2.42 on the Canadiens would be very very welcome indeed.

3) Another shooter
Amazing numbers of shots by Brian himself – totals that would have led the Canadiens last year by a very wide margin.

Though his goalscoring numbers have taken a hit, and the 48 goal season was certainly a blip, his offensive production has been relatively steady, both in terms of Pts/60 and GF/60 when he's been on the ice. Perhaps it's a maturing Gionta who finds new ways to influence the game. We'll see.

Tobalev on Gionta

In the summer that we got big in came Gionta. I am not sure if Petrov was smaller, but look for Brian to take up as much of the playing surface as Oleg used to. That said, Petrov was one of my favorite players, and boy could he play on his night. With precedents set, I have nothing against the small man and I honestly believe he can get the job done – I just find it amusing that we let ‘small’ players go for even smaller ones.

Peace with the small players of the league aside, I am not thrilled that we have locked this player (whose production is declining) up for so long. Still, for now let’s just worry about this year, shall we? Beyond this season is not our problem (yet), it is Martin’s, Gainey’s and Brian’s.

When we focus down to the next few months, Brian's addition takes on a new light. A return to the scene of the crime (sort of) with his old buddy Gomez may just be what the doctor ordered, but I don’t think that his season depends on that pairing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they spent more time apart this year than they do together. I could see Brian being placed on the second line with Plekanec and a winger other than Cammalleri. Though, I don’t expect a 40-goal year or, for that matter, anything close – 25 goals is what I would like (and expect) to see from this player. I do also think that he'll bring much more to the table than just goal-scoring. An NJ player, in (or at least near) his prime, coming to us to show us some secrets. Expect strong defensive play, excellent situational awareness and a sense of discipline on the ice that this current version of the Habs definitely needs. I expect he'll be the type of player that will make those around him better and hopefully teach people a thing or two.

Where Gionta will start 2009-10: First line winger with huge expectations

Where Gionta will end 2009-10: Fan favourite with team lead in GWG

Points: 27 G, 35 A, 62 Pts

Andrei Kostitsyn

08-09 (MTL)74231841-7621.202.1316914.050
07-08 (MTL)78262753+151251.272.6015616.729
06-07 (MTL)2211011+3000.202.25382.66

Even-strength profile

  • Top tier offensive output at even strength

  • Minus player, with high goals against

  • Above average chance generation with below average chance prevention at even strength

  • Near neutral CORSI: -0.8 (3rd on 2008-09 Habs)


Stats notes

A player we know well for a change. Nothing in Kostitsyn's read out really surprises, though there are some elements that confirm what the optimists have been saying. To note:

1) He produces goals
1.27 G/60 2 years ago in his de facto rookie year, and 1.20 last year. It's consistent and all the more impressive considering the PP wasn't there to pad his stats quite as much.

2) Offense comes very much at the expense of defence
There's room for improvement with Andrei here. It didn't take any fancy calculations or year end stats for me to work out that Andrei cares as much for defence as he does about for Kurt Sauer. And while I can live with a winger being slow on the way back, it would be more comfortable for team and fans (when pressure games arise) to know that Andrei will play the other way from time to time. INterestingly, as CORSIs go, his isn't that bad – a case for offense being the best defence then.

3) His shot is special
Again, the shooting percentage only backs up what we all saw – that Kostitsyn's shot can beat a feet-set, angles covered goalie better than anyone we've seen in two decades in Montreal. The fact he doesn't shoot much is frustrating, sure. But when goals are needed, it's better to have his skills than most.

I wouldn't look for the massive explosion that there could have been in goals for Andrei, mainly since the PP minutes he could have taken when Kovalev departed will be shared between himself, Cammalleri and Gionta. I think his role and contribution will grow through the season, and January (if history is any indicator) could be his watershed. Progress will be made, but perhaps not fully reflected in the stats if there is a slower start.

Tobalev on Andrei Kostitsyn

Will anyone benefit from Kovalev’s departure more than Andrei? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong as I think Andrei (and I) would love having Alex back, but I do think Kovalev was one reason we haven't yet seen the full Andrei Kostitsyn package. I feel that the game Andrei wants to play (and should be playing) was very similar – probably too similar – to Kovy’s, and because of that it was Andrei who was first to adapt his play a different style. Whether that meant playing on an off-wing, less PP time or just less time stick-handling himself; it all affected Andrei’s raw production levels. Now those excuses have been made on Kostitsyn’s behalf it is certainly time to see him play, at a high level, each and every night.

Other than shedding Kovalev's shadow, Kostitsyn should also be guaranteed 2 great line-mates this year (which hasn’t always been the case). His line may very well include his secret weapon: Sergei. To speculate, I could see him playing very well with Gomez and wouldn’t be surprised if that is where he spent most of his season. Yes, he has had success with Pleks, but I think that their bad times out-number their good.

One day, I see Andrei scoring 40, 45 or even 50 goals, but I don’t think it will all happen this season. Instead, look for him to get more goals than assists and hopefully finish close to the 60-point mark. Of course, his defensive play is in dire need of improvement if he wants to be put out in more pressure-packed situations, so I am looking for Martin to really take him under his wing this year. If he can be Martin’s new Havlat or Hossa we may see a player emerge that we never knew we had. Andrei's got that incredible amount of potential you don't see everyday, and I really think that we are about to see the start of a very steady incline in his quality of play.

Where A Kostitsyn will start 2009-10: Finding a place on the top two lines and the PP

Where A Kostitsyn will end 2009-10: Bona fide game changer with most highlight entries for play of the year

Points: 31 G, 33 A, 64 Pts

As a line

Line #1Effect O/D
C – Scott Gomez
  • Helped most linemates be better offensively
  • Helped most linemates be better defensively
  • Played best overall with Nikolai Zherdev last season
  • History with Gionta (2006-07) shows how he potentiated his game – from 0.84 GF/60 to 3.06 GF/60
RW – Brian Gionta
  • Made all his frequent linemates better offensive players
  • Made all but Rolston better defensive players
  • Played best with Dainius Zubrus last season
  • Thrives with Gomez (see above)
LW – Andrei Kostitsyn
  • Helped skilled offensive players be better offensively
  • Hampered most defensive games
  • Played best with brother Sergei last season

Gomez is the starting point for any top line on the Canadiens this season. While it seems that Gomez can coax more production out of several plyer types, it would be foolhardy to disregard the effect he has shown on Brian Gionta's game. Without Gomez, Gionta is a fine player, but with him, he becomes a proper league-feared goalscoring threat.

Who then to play on their left? Gainey has given Martin options here. Fundamentally, though, to achieve success getting both Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec going again should be top of the list. Two years ago, they were a dynamic duo, but last season they sapped the energy out of each other. That's why I prefer a change for both. An offensive line to be reckoned with for Andrei, leaving a very dynamic new linemate to spark Pleks. What's more, Andrei's lackadaisical approach to defence is probably better contained with Gionta and Gomez who know where to be themselves rather than Plekanec and winger #2. All in all, gotta be worth a try...

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

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