Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Bugle Sounds For The Cavalry

Are We Right To Expect of Cammalleri and MAB?

You know what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. In many cases, that fond heart might benefit from an override from a cooler head.

Sometimes when a player returns, the expectations about the impact he will have reach silly proportions. We can all remember the ludicrous anticipation that preceded Ryan O’Byrne’s return as he replaced a very similar Paul Mara in the lineup.

On the eve of Mike Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron’s return I offer then some stats for the nostalgics to ponder and some counterpoint to the staunchest critics.

Mike Cammalleri

When Cammalleri was bent to breaking point in our previous loss to the mighty Senators, the team was a messy 0.500 outfit. That night, the standings put the Habs in the mix for 8th with a 25-25-6 record. Mike was the top goalscorer by a furlong and he was often the only dangerous threat going forward. The naysayers saw the game as reason to close up shop.

Since that time, the Habs have played 17 games with a return of 11-5-1 (mostly thanks to a recent spell of wins).

So Cammalleri, member of a middling team returns. What will happen to the group? Will his return upset the applecart, or will he fit silkily into Tom Pyatt’s place on a top line?

It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen. It’s worth providing more context, though.

First, Cammalleri was indeed member of a 0.500 team, but that team was largely one that played without Markov and Gionta, started Price and put hope in Guillaume Latendresse and not Pouliot. Markov’s return, closely followed by Pouliot’s debut and Halak’s usurping the throne made the Habs a different team. In fact, the twenty games that Cammalleri saw with the group saw them return 10-7-3 from 20 games (albeit even many of those lacked Andrei Kostitsyn). Without analyzing this to death, I think we can say the team was at least as good with Cammalleri as without and should benefit from having 4 top wingers for the first game in some time.

Furthermore, there are stats you just can’t argue with. Offensively, Cammalleri is the premiere player on the Canadiens bar none. He posted numbers over 56 games that others have struggled to match in 73 and his pro-rated scoring for such a long stretch is only surpassed by players who streaked and are waiting for the tail off.

Take goals created for example:

GC: 22.17 – 2nd (Plekanec – 1st, 24.75)
GC/60: 1.21 – 1st (Gionta – 6th, for reference, 0.88)
ESGC/60: 1.11 – 1st (Gionta – 6th, for reference, 0.82)

Impressive stuff. These numbers are leagues above his teammates, showing that even amongst some players we call scoring stars, he stands out.

Consider also that apart from his own goals, he is also on the ice for more goals from others than anyone else. In a league where being on the ice for 3.00 goals at even strength puts you in the top 10%, Cammalleri is right there:

ESGFON/60: 3.15 – 3rd (Gionta – 2nd, for reference, 3.20)
ALLGFON/60: 4.21 – 1st (Gionta – 5th, for reference, 3.50)

If that weren’t enough, we could cite chances for while he’s on, chances of his own (surpassed only in the past couple of games by Gionta and Gomez) and the fact that his giveaway count is scarily low for a Habs player.

The negatives are harder to tease out, but there may be some worry that other people’s numbers will suffer as Cammalleri takes more ice time and puck. I can’t worry too much about this, as every point surrendered by Pouliot or Gomez will be matched by Plekanec and Kostitsyn’s possible rebounding.

Fond hearts rejoice, even the biggest cynic couldn’t stare these down and choose Pyatt over Mike.

Marc-Andre Bergeron

We’ve touched on him already this week, so this will be brief.

MAB has one dimension at the NHL level, there’s no secret. Looking at his total numbers, his defence, his CORSI, etc. is all pointless if you don’t first consider his stats isolated from the PP. And isolated they can’t fail to impress:

PPGC/60: 2.76 – 2nd (Markov – 1st, 2.82)
PPG: 6 – 3rd
PPPts: 20 – 2nd
PPGFON/60: 12.75 ¬– 5th/1st among PP regulars (Markov – 2nd among PP regulars, 11.35)

As you can see, his contribution has been outstanding to the PP. As much as a goalmaker as Markov, it seems (by GC) he is also a boost just by sheer presence. 12.75 GF/60 if he played half of every PP (assuming 2 minutes) would mean a rough PP% of 21.25%, even when if the other unit was blanked on every occasion.

It’s not all trumps, the drawbacks are noticeable too. He’s slow to anticipate, favours dangerous passes over the hard work of taking checks and presents a substantial liability on defence. Managed in the right way, though, Martin has shown that MAB can contribute at one end, without contributing to Jack Todd’s list of zeroes.

The PP may not be in dire need of a boost, but the addition of MAB can’t help but make the defenders a little more jittery. As a result the defending that has stifled our forwards without appropriate fear for being called for fouls should also come under test.

How fast?

I write this article today because today is the day of return. That doesn’t mean I think these changes will be instantaneous. Returns from injury take time, and these two were long layoffs. I believe that all the positive repercussions will filter through, but how fast I’m unclear. I’d tell you all to be patient with this, but patience isn’t the word for staring down the Thrashers in April.

If I had to guess, I’d say give MAB a game, he won’t have forgotten how to shoot, and the rest of his “abilities” aren’t what we’re looking for anyway. And Cammalleri – he may not score this week, or reignite Kostitsyn’s 50-goal pace, but the name on his sweater alone should at least cause stir enough from the opposition to show his impact over Pyatt.

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