February saw the Montreal Canadiens drift even further out of playoff contention, despite gaining more points than the past few months. At this point, any post-season hopes seem dashed, and it seems clear that Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien are placing a larger emphasis on evaluating the roster moving forward. This opportunity has given some players to try out new roles, as well as permitting core players to strengthen their significance to the team.
First Star: Brendan Gallagher
It not for multiple injuries, it seemed all but guaranteed that Brendan Gallagher would have had a career year and set personal-best records across the board. Since he did manage to remain healthy all of February, “Gally” enjoyed a productive month, and ranked near the top in most offensive categories. He led the team in plus/minus (+8), shots on goal (45) and he shared the goal-scoring lead with Alex Galchenyuk (6). Moreover, Gallagher is the type of player that is useful even when he isn’t hitting the score-sheet, and his play often seems to inspire his teammates to join him in exerting maximum effort, shift-by-shift. All of these factors have Gallagher on Team Canada’s radar for the World Cup.
Stats: 13 GP, 6 G, 3 A, 9 P, +8 Rating
Second Star: Alex Galchenyuk
In a season that has been largely negative, Alex Galchenyuk has been a bright light in the darkness. Although there will always be those who bemoan the former 3rd overall pick’s development, wagering that he’d be a de facto number one centerman anywhere else in the NHL, the truth is that “Chucky” continues to take great strides in his progression, as evidenced in February. Perhaps guilty of making too often an extra move, Galchenyuk has begun to release his dangerous shot more quickly, and his one-timer from the off-wing is reminiscent of a former #27, Alex Kovalev. His six goals co-led the Canadiens in that department, and as of the time of this writing, Galchenyuk had set a career high in goals. If his new-found chemistry with Max Pacioretty and Sven Andrighetto is any indicator, perhaps 30 goals won’t be out of the question this season.
Stats: 13 GP, 6 G, 3 A, 9 P, +3 Rating
Third Star: P.K. Subban
Despite his coach calling him out publically for “individual mistakes” in February, it was nonetheless a productive month for Subban. Always one to believe that he can be a game-changer, Subban seemed to turn it up a notch when some of his teammates may have been resigned to the fact that the Montreal Canadiens would be missing the playoffs. Perhaps this self-possessed drive may have led to some “individual mistakes”, but the media and coach often neglect to give credit when P.K.’s efforts pay dividends, and advanced statistics support that Subban’s efforts help considerably more than they hinder. It’s no coincidence that Subban co-led the Canadiens in assists last month, and his 5 powerplay points led the team in that category.
Stats: 13 GP, 1 G, 9 A, 10 P, Even Rating
Honourable Mention: Tomas Plekanec
Many take Tomas Plekanec’s consistent efforts for granted, prefer to point out the lack of “Number One Center” characteristics and state how his utilisation is hindering Alex Galchenyuk’s development. There might be some validity in that analysis, but February quieted a lot of Plekanec’s critics. Tallying at almost a point-per-game rate, Plekanec certainly filled the definition of a top pivot in that regard, and as usual, his 200-foot game was excellent and under-rated. After a few dismal months in which his points were down and many were thinking that Plekanec’s best years were behind him, it was nice to see him regain his form in February.
Stats: 13 GP, 3 G, 9 A, 12 P, +6 Rating