MONTREAL, QC.– Montreal Canadiens’ fans in the social media have been arguing lately on whether Jacques Martin, head coach of the team has “broken” P.K. Subban or not. Although this can be argued, almost everyone will now agree that the defence as a whole are in fact, broken.
How did this happen? Weren’t we recently rejoicing over how well this unit was playing as a whole? Weren’t we amazed and excited at the prowesses of the young Subban? Weren’t we recently in awe at how well Hamrlik and Spacek were playing together?
Let’s take a look at the defence over the last fifteen games, starting four games prior to Subban’s first benching. I’ve split this up into multiple categories (Note: The Tuesday game against the Washington Capitals is not included):
> Prior to Subban’s first benching (4 games)
> Subban’s first benching, Weber’s intro (3 games)
> Subban back in the lineup (6 games)
> Subban’s second benching (2 games)
> The current road trip (4 games)
Prior to Subban’s first benching (4 games):
I remember how a majority of people were saying that Subban did not play well leading up to his benching. Interesting when you look at the numbers of those four games leading to it, where I point out the following:
> Subban was averaging the third most ice time on defence behind only Gorges and Hamrlik. (25:08 in the game prior to being benched)
> If not for a five-minute major penalty, Subban’s PIMs would have been on par with the others.
> He was leading all defenceman with seven hits.
> He was the only Canadien’s defenceman without any turnovers. (This one is surprising don’t you agree?)
The Habs were 2-2 over this stretch of four games, and although Subban did not play well in the last of these games against the Edmonton Oilers, it’s a common misconception that he played a lot worse then he really did. Other factors lead to his benching? Maybe…
Subban’s first benching, Weber’s intro (3 games):
I point out the following:
> Weber makes a great impression on defense, two points, second behind on Hamrlik. Leaders all defenceman in hits with four, only one turnover, and a great +3 rating over the three games.
> Holy Hamrlik, way to pick up the slack. Four points in three games, 12 shots blocked, averaged 23:40 in ice time, +4 differential, he lead Habs’ defencemen in all of these categories.
> Honorable mention to Jaro Spacek who also had a +4 differential, but i’m a little concerned when i see his increasing ice time at 22:03 over the three games.
With three wins over the course of the three games, it’s a little difficult to find a negative on the defence, although some would argue that Hall Gill and Jaro Spacek who combined for nine turnovers was cause for concern.
Subban back in the lineup (6 games):
> Although he’s had his very good moments since his return, Subban’s -6 differential clearly stands out above all defenceman.
> The Subban/Picard pairing combined for five points over the six games, all other defencemen had 1 combined.
> As a whole, the ice time seems to be taking it’s toll, players are tired, and taking more and more penalties. Got my eye on you Hamrlik and Spacek.
> The average number of turnovers has also gone steadily up over the periods and sits at close to nine per game over this period.
You can’t lay all the blame on Subban, everybody looks tired and everyone’s play is sub par. Subban was again sent into the press box, but only because that’s the easy decision to make for Jacques Martin. It takes guts to sit a seasoned veteran, but a rookie, none at all.
Subban’s second benching (2 games):
> Over the two games which produced a win and a loss, the defence produced 4 points, while the Canadiens as a team had only four goals over that stretch.
> The Hamrlik/Spacek pairing produced three of those four points, but also had five turnovers over this period.
The current road trip (4 games):
> As Hamrlik and Spacek continue to play long minutes, the number of turnovers they give up stays on the rise. They are tired, they’ve played well but can not continue at this pace, IMO.
> Picard is now sitting at -5 over the four game road trip, he to is feeling the effects of increased ice time and regular NHL playing.
> Gill and Picard are the only two defencemen who do not have a negative +/- differential. Don’t be necessarily fooled by this stat, if you’ve been watching the games, you’ve noticed that Gorges especially is also struggling. He is supposedly playing through injury and it could partly explain the situation. Gorges also used to lead the team in ice time averaging over 23 minutes, and recently, his ice time has been reduced to under twenty, another indicator.
To conclude, the acquisition of James Wisniewski clearly comes at a time where it was needed for the Montreal Canadiens defence, who are clearly tired. Players like Spacek, Gill and Gorges have played far too many minutes and are feeling the effects of it. Even Hamrlik who’s proven to be able to play long minutes, has lately shown signs of tiredness. We’ve seen it watching the games, the numbers also support the argument.
Spacek as an example has played some of his best hockey for the Canadiens when he used to average around 16-17 minutes per game. The fact he is now playing 5-6 minutes above this, on average shows that Martin is not willing to give that ice time to others.
The numbers game has definitely not been an easy one for Jacques Martin. With 120 minutes of defencemen time to fill up per game, the Canadiens certainly did not have the ideal defensive lineup, especially with Markov out of the lineup.
In a mock scenario, let’s say you only want to give 17 minutes of ice to Gill and Spacek, and let’s assume the same for Subban on the basis that he’s a rookie. That’s 51 minutes of ice, meaning you now have to fill up the rest (109 minutes) with Hamrlik, Gorges and let’s assume Picard. (Before the acquisition of Wisniewski)
Whoa there tiger, 23 minutes each? Obviously you can’t have Picard playing 23 minutes, and Gorges doesn’t seem able to play 23 minutes right now with his apparent injury, so what do you do? Raise Spacek’s and Gill’s ice time.
Jacques Martin, having to deal with the players he had, was not necessarily making the decisions he wanted, but simply doing what he felt was best, with what he had. It could be seen that way.
For a while now, fans and media have been stating that the solution to the issue was outside of the organization. I myself have stated that the Canadiens needed to get their hands on a “Dan Boyle” type player who can contribute a lot of minutes. Granted, Wisniewski is no Dan Boyle, but he can play extended minutes and that’s exactly what the Montreal defence needs right now.
So now, the question is no longer who, but how. How to best use the defensive unit going forward? Who will Wisniewski be paired with? Who will be the odd defenceman out, having to either go back down to Hamilton, or be involved in a follow up trade? Who will be the defenceman finding themselves in the pressbox?
We can easily assume Weber will be sent back down to Hamilton, while Picard will be shown the direction of the pressbox, as Picard has arguably been the Canadiens’ worst defenceman over the road trip, sitting at -5 over the past four games. But it’s a little too early to determine exactly how this will all play out. Wisniewski is set to join the team for practice tomorrow in Florida, in anticipation of Thursday’s game against the Lightning.
Hamrlik – Subban
Wisniewski – Spacek
Gorges – Gill
|2010-2011||New York Islanders||NHL||32||3||18||21||18||||
|12/28/2010||Confirmed||New York Islanders||Montréal Canadiens|
|08/01/2010||Confirmed||Anaheim Ducks||New York Islanders|
|07/31/2010||Extension||Anaheim Ducks||Anaheim Ducks|
|07/12/2009||Extension||Anaheim Ducks||Anaheim Ducks|
|- Drafted 2000, round 1, #20 overall by Plymouth Whalers in the OHL Priority Selection|
|PIM||Penalties in Minutes|
|ATOI||Average Time on Ice|
(Graphic: Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)