The Canadiens recently passed the quarter point of the 2019-20 season with the team off to an 11-6-4 record so it’s time to release the HabsWorld first quarter report cards. We begin this series with the Habs defencemen and goalies.
Players must have played in 5/21 games to receive a grade.
Carey Price – Grade: B+
1st Quarter Stats: 17 GP, 10-5-2 Record, 2.75 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO
Grade Comments: Seven games <3 goals against, ten games >=3 goals against. Price got off to a somewhat rough start to the season allowing three or more goals in his first five games before recording his first shutout of this season. The Montreal defensive system promotes is more offensive this season, and it can sometimes leave the Habs goaltenders at a handicap, especially in multi-pass situations when the opponent completes two or more passes in their zone. Carey improved over the rest of the quarter, gaining a shutout in the sixth game, then garnered the first star of the game in three games and a second star in another.
Price has been very good some games and has played a few exceptional games as well along with a few below-average games. At this time, he still remains one of the top five goalies in the league but could use a little more support from his team.
Keith Kinkaid – Grade: D
1st Quarter Stats: 4 GP, 1-1-2 Record, 4.24 GAA, .877 SV%
Grade Comments: The club’s newest backup was an offseason free agent signing who played the past 6 years in New Jersey. Last season was a career-worst for Kinkaid when his goals-against average ballooned to 3.36 after always staying under 3, and his save percentage dropping significantly to .891. However, in 2017-18, Keith took over when injured starter Cory Schneider was out for the second half of the season and rose to the occasion helping the Devils get into the playoffs. This season his grade reflects his performance so far for the Habs, given his one win and four points in four starts. His goals-against skyrocketed to 4.24 and his save percentage dwindled to .887.
Keith is well known on Twitter for spectacular tweets after team wins; the recaps are filled with emojis leaving fans delighted to decipher his text. He has carried this habit over to Montreal to the delight of many fans. I am not sure but perhaps he needs to spend less time on social media and more time in practice with the goalie coach to figure out what’s wrong with his game.
Shea Weber – Grade: A
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 6G, 11A, 18 Points, +6, 12 PIM, 59 Shots
Grade Comments: The Habs captain got off to a slow start managing only two points in the first games with both points in one match. Then his offensive game kicked in and he’s scoring at exactly a point a game in the next 15. What’s interesting to his beginning is that Weber’s typical booming shot from the point has not been his primary scoring weapon. What used to be the Habs power play weapon is no longer deployed as their primary option, likely due to the opposition always keying their strategy against it. Like other Montreal defencemen, the coaches have given the blueliners carte blanche to jump into the play in the offensive zone when it’s safe. Weber has good instincts in choosing when to pinch in from the point, as several of his goals have come via shots from the top of the faceoff circle.
His defensive game overall is still very good, and Weber leads the team in blocked shots. Shea will occasionally lay out the opposition with a serious check and his leadership skills are still strong. His two first star selections show his dominance in a few games so far this season.
Jeff Petry – Grade: A-
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 2G, 10A, 12 Points, +6, 8 PIM, 57 Shots
Grade Comments: Petry had a nearly opposite start to Weber with five points in his first seven games. Early on, he was the team leader on defence and he continues to garner the most average ice time. I thought he was easily the team’s best player to begin play when the first puck dropped in October. His offensive production settled down with seven more points over the next fourteen games. His overall game has remained very strong as he is an excellent two-way blueliner. Jeff leads all Habs with 56 hits and one-third of his points were earned on the power play. He has also been sneaky to deliver a big hit when no one expects it without getting himself out of position.
Victor Mete – Grade: B
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 3G, 3A, 6 Points, +9, 6 PIM, 27 Shots
Grade Comments: Mete is entering his third season in Montreal very strong. Some of the defensive lapses he suffered in his sophomore year have not been evident to start this season. In his 127th NHL game, Victor finally scored his first NHL goal! He added two more in game fifteen; both games earned him the first star. Mete’s skating is his forte, as he shows a huge willingness to skate the puck out of the defensive zone or pinch in from the point in the offensive zone. In defensive situations, he employs a quick stick to break up the rush. His skating and hockey sense are so strong that he rarely gets caught up the ice from an opposition turnover.
Ben Chiarot – Grade: B
1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 3G, 5A, 8 Points, +4, 10 PIM, 37 Shots
Grade Comments: After looking very much out of place early in the season, he caused Habs fans to wonder if Marc Bergevin signed another free agent bust like Karl Alzner. It took Ben a few weeks before he settled into the Habs system. Once he did, he was promoted from third pairing situations to mostly the second pair. However, a few games such as the first one against Boston, Chiarot was promoted to the top pairing to form a shutdown option against the Bruins top line. He was very successful in that role and has done well when he returns for defensive situations. Ben adds a physical element to the Canadiens team and has a surprisingly hard slap shot which has helped him produce some offence. Chiarot is on pace for a career high in goals, assists and points.
Cale Fleury – Grade: B-
1st Quarter Stats: 16 GP, 1G, 0A, 1 Point, -2, 2PIM, 20 Shots
Grade Comments: Since Noah Juulsen was injured in late January, the third pairing spot on the right side has been up for grabs. In training camp, Juulsen had a setback in his return, which opened the door for Fleury to seize the opportunity. He played well enough to beat out Christian Folin for the position. Cale combines good puck-moving with smart defensive abilities. He regularly throws at least one thunderous clean check every game, which must keep the opposition’s heads up. The last time the Habs had a similar defender was when Alexei Emelin played for the team. His only point this season was a beautiful backhand goal when he jumped in from the point when he saw an open lane to make a scoring change happen. He was scratched for five games in the first quarter; each time he has returned he has played well. I am very impressed with Fleury’s start to the first quarter. In the long term, he may not become a top-pairing defenceman, but he may end up on the second pair eventually and thrive in that position.
Mike Reilly – Grade: D+
1st Quarter Stats: 8 GP, 0G, 2A, 2 Points, +1, 2 PIM, 9 Shots
Grade Comments: I have not been a big fan of Reilly since he arrived in Montreal. There have been a few times when he has scored a goal or made a quick rush to surprise fans. Unfortunately, he often uses poor judgment leading to bad turnovers. This season I believe he has made significant improvements to simplify his game. Reilly is an excellent skater, probably the second-best on this team behind Mete. The team’s relative depth on defence, along with the emergence of Fleury and free agent signing of Chiarot has pushed Reilly down the depth chart. If an injury comes up then he will get a chance to show he belongs.
Brett Kulak – Grade: D
1st Quarter Stats: 13 GP, 0G, 2A, 2 Points, -3, 6 PIM, 19 Shots
Grade Comments: At the time of this writing Kulak had played 171 games in the NHL and is 25 years old. He is close to the league standard 200 games for teams to determine what type of player they have developed into. After this quarter, it’s still hard to say if Kulak will become a regular or a spare part for the Habs. When he did play, he was inconsistent this quarter. This is part of the reason he has not seized the opportunity to become a regular, despite playing in 57 games for Montreal after a call up from the AHL last season.
Christian Folin – Grade: D
1st Quarter Stats: 5 GP, 0G, 1A, 1 Point, +2, 2 PIM, 2 Shots
Grade Comments: Christian has been out of the lineup much more than in. To start the season he played in five of the first eight games but has not played since October 19th. When Folin has played, he usually provided a steady safe game. He has good size, is willing to block shots and likes to dish out hits. However, he is limited in his mobility as an average skater. Folin has a heavy, hard shot, but needs to use it more. If Christian broke into the NHL twenty years ago, he would be a regular on the third pairing for most NHL teams. Today, however, his offensive skills and hockey sense are limited, making him more of a spare defenceman to fill in when injuries occur or other teammates underperform.