It won't necessarily be pretty, but they'll be handing out the returning Canadiens the player of the month award tonight at the Bell Centre. If the team stays true to fan voting, then it could be close. I can't find the total ballots as I did last season (maybe the team is trying to conceal the fact that only 200 people vote a game), but based on fan stars, Price (on a so-so season for him) will continue the sweep.
The fans chose Price first star twice, second star once and third star twice over his 13 starts. Next best was Erik Cole who got three seconds and a third. The NHL version of events has Price with his two first, but a less generous one third to go with. Cole on the other hand got a first star nod from the experts and three seconds. By conventional scoring Cole wins media.
It's always hard to choose the best player over a bad month. The Habs this month turned 14 games into 11 points by going 4-7-3. This meant even with the serious bias of Canadiens fans, they still only awarded stars to 25 of a possible 42 recipients.
I think this month was poor enough that consideration should also be given to those players who played well in losing efforts as well as wins. Thus we look to other elements.
This should be painful: Lion of the Month.
Let's start with conventional stats. He scored 9 goals in 14 games. He assisted on 4 others. He scored those goals in 9 different games, so it's not like we're overvaluing the Ottawa game here.
In terms of goals created, we assessed that Cole created 6.00 goals on his own. This may not sound like much, but consider that means we think he is responsible for 1/6th of the offensive output for the whole team over a month. Noting that he could only ever be 1/6th of the team on at most goalscoring times, even if he played every minute. Exceptional, in other words. He's doing things on and off the puck to make his line a threat most of the time.
Cole was on the ice for 99 chances in December, including 29 of his own. Both clear highs for a forward on the team. Is it sustainable? Perhaps not the goal completion rate, but for the rest he's shown it's just part of the way he plays -- I'd say yes.
If you look purely on the dome/no dome dichotomy Price did enough to win this nod. I wonder though, did he just do enough enough times, however?
We awarded him the player of the game 4 time in his 13 starts. In those games, Price had a 2-1-1 record with a 1.97 GAA and a 0.935 SV%. Good, but the best in the league post this as their average performance. The flip side were his other 9 games where he was 2-5-2 with a 3.19 GAA and an 0.897 SV%.
It's always hard to fault a goalie and often we give the benefit of the doubt to the player in the last line of defence who has been left to fend for himself. Witness 8 domes for that record in 9 games above. Yet, averages are informative because they help us to spot trends and importantly start to compare against other goalies or past performance.
A crude measure of shot quality is shot location. As you know, Olivier of En Attendant les Nordiques goes far to track this aspect with his scoring chance data. When we filter out missed shots we get high quality shots (or at least shots from high quality locations). This year, I have been doing this and finding that of the shots Price faces, about 42% are of this higher quality. Unfortunately I didn't do this last season, but going on the proportion of missed shots that make the scoring chance record this season (76%), this number is up from last season when he was facing about 36% shots from quality areas. All last season, he'd have been saving about 79% of these shots, identical to this December as it happens.
So, to be absolutely fair to Carey, the evidence is mounting that the Habs have been hanging out to dry.
A bit of an honourable mention, perhaps. Diaz, 20-odd games into an NHL career has had a month of great growth actually.
Diaz claimed 6 domes from a possible 12, and tied for the most of any defenceman. We do recall that sometimes this was for not being totally awful, but that is on a par with Price, isn't it?
What specifically drew my eye to Diaz were a few little stats. +2 - Diaz has been rather stingy at ES, a team-leading 1.71. This may be due in part to Carey's heroism or luck when he's been on, but it still stands out. As does his ability to keep chances on net off target (misses or blocks) more than others.
He's also been a big cog on the still putrid (but improving PP). The Habs scored 9 PP goals in December on 55ish PPs. It's not a good percentage, but it's better than before. Diaz's increasing comfort at the point is part of that. It's a shame he can't score, but he does have 6.18 Pts/60 for December, a team high. While he was on, the team scored 9.27 goals per 60 minutes of time as well (or about double the team rate), which was also a team high. Obviously one can't do this conversion and take it seriously, but for fun, this goal rate might convert to a 27.8% efficiency rating (based on an avg PP length of 1:48, or 9 minutes over 5 PPs to score 1 goal).
Lion of November: Erik Cole
Diaz wasn't really in the league of the other two, but that speaks volumes about the team as a whole, doesn't it?
I give the nod to Erik Cole. Price had a good month, but you'd always want to add the words "considering the circumstances" after that statement. Cole just had a good month, even an exceptional one. While team tightening and sways in luck will see this future battle likely go to Price as it did in November, one can't just ignore 9 important goals.
As I've aid, this month's battle was a huge disappointment. Diaz, the legitimate #3 is nowhere near vying for this honour. The two realistic contenders are the same two as November. One must start asking where the rest of the team is.
Cole has very good been individually, but his ability to lead or stir his teammates must come next. Desharnais is producing more than he should/would, but Cole has to be used to somehow now re-infect Plekanec, Pacioretty, Kostitsyn, Cammalleri, Eller, Darche, Moen and eventually Gionta to be something better than average at peak performance.
It's a lot to ask of the free agent Hab, but he'll be doing it for himself. That's because if he wants playoff hockey over this contract, the Habs current group with some fire look the better bet than his old mates in Carolina.