21 games into a season and it's time to have a little look back at what has happened. I read a pretty blunt and unforgiving take on the Toronto Maple leafs the other day that will serve as my template.
There's no point in handing out a C when you mean F or a B+ when you mean a C. We'll grade to the curve so that the forwards as a group get the grade they deserve.
As a group
We all know the team is in the thick of things. 6 points out of first, 2 points out of 7th and 2 points ahead of second to last in the conference. A bottom midddling team so far. And the offense has been OK, but rather middling as well. An acceptable 53 goals over 21 games, however, has been inflated by some big outbursts and masks the losses due to lack of punch.
As a group, the forwards have contributed these outbursts and most of the 53 goals, and have been pretty sound defensively at times too. But it's not all positive. The group has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for lacklustre comeback attempts, a largely ineffective PP and for not being more than middling in goalscoring overall.
As a group, I'd give them a C+, a passable performance thus far, but knowing that one needs to be better than rivals, not enough.
Tomas Plekanec: A-
It's possible he's been cast in a role that it's impossible for him to fill: the all-around leader of the Montreal forwards. It is perhaps not in him to carry a team on his back when a huge turnaround is needed. Still, Tomas provides that reliable Plekanec hockey that any team would be pleased to call upon. Nearly a point per game and lots of impressive performances make him the best of the bunch.
Max Pacioretty: A-
Has stepped into the role of Habs primary goalscorer with panache. His shots are well chosen and well weighted, and he's been rewarded with 9 goals so far.
Brian Gionta: B-
A tale of two 10 game stretches. he was at times criminally absent in the first ten games and the Habs record showed for it. Since that time, he has retaken his mantle as leader and is climbing up in these marks.
David Desharnais: B-
His critics are both right and wrong. he has benefited from a few very hot starts at times from wingers and he has obtained assists on goals where he hasn't been the main protagonist. All the same, he does keep finding men open for good shooting opportunities with simple and unheralded passes. He's been a pleasant surprise given we didn't know we even had this player in the system, but is probably underperforming as a top line centre. When goals are needed, he has sometimes been a conspicuous absentee from danger areas.
Erik Cole: B+
What Erik has provided isn't easy to record. After an unforgivable start (unfit at camp???), he has been a point-per-game sparkplug since Game 8 and his first Habs goal. His main contribution may be keeping the stumbling PP above water, as he creates more than 2 goals per 60 minutes when let loose with the man advantage.
Michael Cammalleri: C-
Too many times we have been left saying how dangerous he looked without real benefit from the danger. teams that win have dangerous players who find a way to score. This is the player that Gauthier presumed he had signed in 2009, not one who would be on pace for 16 goals 2 years later.
Andrei Kostitsyn: B-
He's been a handful for many of the defenses he's faced, but like the Canadiens forwards as a whole has been frustratingly slow to step up to the plate when a hit was required. If he can return soon, the situation may be ripe to move him with Pleks and unite Gionta with Gomez, which could benefit both AK and the team overall.
Travis Moen: B
Travis had a great start, but for the last 14 games (that's 1 7th of a season) he's been busy showing us it was mostly just a fast start. He's been outstanding defensively at times, however, especially at ES (possibly due to a little bit of luck looking at his chances +/-), and has been a workhorse on the very effective PK.
Lars Eller: C+
When someone present you with a silver platter, don't put more than half of your shots off net. It's very encouraging to see Eller's confidence and all that, and he has had some truly impressive carries. He's also had his fair share of great shifts. But at the end of the day he embodies what an average Habs forward has been this season. A lot of fancy possession stats, but too often happy to go round the outside and eschew the best scoring chances.
Scott Gomez: F
Gomez has played 12 games now. He has had one, maybe two games where people want to stick their necks out to defend him. Regardless of his money, he is a veteran and a player who can lead the younger ones. He has too often set the wrong example.
Mathieu Darche: F
It's true that Mathieu Darche only has 4 fewer goals than Tomas Plekanec and 3 fewer than Cammalleri, but can you remember a goalscoring opportunity from this guy? I do remember a breakaway he parked in the pads with a half shot. Darche is on the team to be a veteran player who can pick up some slack when others are having off nights. So far, he has yet to do that.
Petteri Nokelainen: C-
He's been better than the alternative (Engqvist) but not much more.
Michael Blunden: D-
It's hard to give a player like Blunden an F, so I'll give him the grade just higher. He did nothing more than play passable hockey and that's slightly disappointing for a team that seems to be in perpetual need of someone with Blunden's physical attributes. Perhaps he was only the victim of an unforgiving coach, after all, he only took one really dumb penalty to put him in permanent doghouse.
Aaron Palushaj: D
He hasn't seen the best ice time, but after 11 games and 80 minutes of ice time, one might expect more than 0 points and one scoring chance from a forward. Call it fear of reprisal if you want, but Aaron let his true mandate slip away as he tried not to get scored on.
Andreas Engqvist: D-
From training camp through his early NHL debut, he did little if anything to make a fan or coach sit up and take note. His task on the team was to provide an NHL body until injuries returned. His task for his own career was to make an impression. he didn't fulfill either very convincingly.
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