Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Lion of January

The Real Player of the Month

This month was close for Carey. Depending on the formula used (total votes or points for star positions) he may or may not win the Molson Cup.

If it's based on votes - we'll have to wait and see as we don't have that data. if it's based on points, then he'll win on both fan and media voting. In both scenarios he edges Max Pacioretty, who had 2 first stars in 11 games, but nothing else. Carey had 2 first plus a second (and a third if you trust the fans).

Unlike last month, the Canadiens actually had some exciting moments this time around. From pummelling Winnipeg, NYR and Detroit, to wins over Tampa and Toronto, as well as exciting point garnering games with Ottawa and Pittsburgh, the Habs did OK. Of course, there were lows that included 2 shutouts vs. Halak and Neuvirth and what felt like shutouts against Miller and Thomas.

All that to say, there's certainly enough to go on from the last eleven games to select the Lion of the Month.


Cole

You can't start a conversation about the good on this team without mentioning Erik Cole anymore. This January, he continued his stellar form. He notched 3 goals and 9 assists in the 11 games. In addition, I noted him down for two extra assists on plays where he was integral to the goal creation, but not noted on the scoresheet. 14 "points" in 11 games is huge and it's felt like that all month. But strangely his offense isn't what made him stand out most from his peers.

Over the month, Cole got 10 nods for the Dome and was 3 times awarded a Game Puck. He was top in both categories. In fact, even the star selectors had him top of the table in total selections. It was his consistently excellent, aggressive and committed play that got him there. He could have scored many more points and goals with more luck and if anything his stats under-represent his month.


Price

A good month from Price to be sure. His stats line reads something like 0.923 Sv% and 2.10 GAA, with a 4-4-1 record.

It's easy to forget how important he is as the Canadiens continue to come up short in making up important ground. I am not one to hang much importance on losing by lower margins (a loss is a loss in the standings, and so much laud for keeping it closer than it should have been is not quick to escape from my keyboard), however he did play some important parts in wins and point games this month, particularly against Tampa, Toronto and Ottawa. In those three games, he saved 95% of all shots, and an incredible 98% once the first goal had penetrated to keep the spirit of possibility alive.

The flip side of this, of course is that Carey in January was still slow to start games. If you take only his stats from 0:00 to the time he lets in the first goal they look poor: 0.892 Sv% and 3.14 GAA. What this means is he lets in the first goal against on average by 19:08 of the first period on about the 9th shot of the game. What troubles me more is that on average this is the 4th chance of the game. Nobody tracks this kind of thing for every goalie, so it's hard to know what it all means. But I can tell you that Carey Price 2010-11 was 0.923 Sv% and 2.48 GAA to start games, so you get the idea.

On balance, his month was above average and contributed to an above average month for the Habs, even if it was a below average month for an NHL team.


Desharnais

Desharnais had 11 points in January too (3G, 8 A). And he created more goals than Cole did (4.42 in all, or 1.30 GC/60).

I decided to consider David for these reasons, but also because I've been toying with the Corsi by suing a weighting system and this guy dominates. The weighting system is primitive, but what it reflects is that when David Desharnias puts an attempt on net (a Corsi + marker), it is usually of much higher quality to some other players. Also, the scoring chances he is on for are of better quality (in that they are less often misses or blocked shots).

So whatever this guy is doing, it is creating better quality space for his teammates and resulting in better quality chances. The impressive thing is that reverse seems to also be happening at the other end of the ice right now. So a very good January at both ends indeed for Desharnais.


Pacioretty
You can't score 7 goals without some recognition. 2 were gamewinners, 2 were first goals and one was game tying to grab a point. He's been Mr. Clutch in January and where would the team have been without him.

What's perhaps different to previous years is that he's been doing this mostly at ES. His goals created at ES is a gaudy 1.56 GC/60, meaning that he'd be responsible for half a goal every game, just at ES. This is high for any team, but stands out especially for the sometimes anaemic Habs.

What's perhaps most astounding, however is that Max of 10 points was only on the ice for 12 goals in total over the month. So while he was Johnny on the spot, his solid play off the puck didn't have quite the same effect as maybe Cole's or Desharnais' did.


Eller

I'll just add Lars to head off any questions. He had 6 goals and 2 assists over 11 games and some other astounding numbers. But I have to be honest, I think that 4 goal, 5 point effort really skewed the picture for him. Since that game (10 games ago now), he has 2 goals and 1 assist and is much more his old self. There's more promise coming to the surface. Just not a Lion of the Month for me.


Lion of January: Erik Cole

If it wasn't already obvious, I'm going with Cole. His stats stack up with the other contenders, and then consider all the things that aren't recorded or measured.

The Buffalo game was the epitome of January for the team. Not enough points, Price doing a good job, Desharnais creating, Pacioretty scoring and Cole impressing most.

What an addition Cole has been. And I suggest we remember this well into next season and the rest of his contract. His ability to create something from nothing is a thing the Habs have missed since the clear-out and is the one glimmer of hope for the playoff optimists.


Lions thus far
For those of you keeping track, Carey Price now has 4 Molson Cup awards and the team's lone All-Star nomination. Although he's been a candidate for all Lion of the Month awards, he has only gathered in one.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Carey Price - he has done well enough to be in serious contention for best player every month. Rather, it's just what I would call evidence that the Molson Cup is a meaningless exercise due to the unfair advantage goalies have in impressing their voters (particularly if they play for 90% of a season vs. a forward's ~30% at a stretch).

Rather it is meant to be the proper recognition for Cole and Pacioretty and others who have done as much as Price to drag this team to some of their wins.

So Carey will wrap up the Molson Cup this year in February, pretty much regardless of what Cole does, or what actually happens from here on in. Will he be the player of the year? Well that's a question that we, unlike the 3 star selectors, are at least willing to take on.

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