The first quarter point of the 2021 season has recently passed. At HabsWorld we usually devote time to evaluate the players with grade reports to start this season. Today’s article will focus on the goaltenders and defencemen.
Players must have played in a minimum of three games to receive a grade.
Jake Allen – Grade: A
Stats: 6 GP, 4W, 2L, 2.01 GAA, .933 SV%
Grade Comments: I have to admit, I am very surprised that Allen is off to a great start to this season. I was not a fan of his prior to his becoming a Canadien; to be honest I was probably the farthest thing from it. As the number one starter in St. Louis for several seasons, I didn’t feel he always gave his team the best chance to win. I was not surprised when Jordan Binnington took over that role and lead the team to their first Stanley Cup. However, Jake is fitting in perfectly in the backup role with Montreal, and giving stability to this role, along with rest to Carey Price. I was also not expecting Jake to match the number of wins as Price for the first quarter. It’s a big surprise to me that he is also bettering him in goals against and save percentage. His strong play may give rise to a new goalie controversy for Montreal.
Carey Price – Grade: C
Stats: 8 GP, 4W, 2L, 2 OTL, 2.84 GAA, .896 SV%
Grade Comments: I have watched Price his entire NHL career, and after seeing him perform so well in last season’s playoffs, I have to say I am wanting more from him for this regular season. The team overall has been off to a strong start and I thought he would benefit from that. Perhaps he has slipped into a state of contentment, and if so that is not good enough for an elite goaltender. Some games he has been solid, but there were a few where he had some lapses. I can’t say he has “stolen” any game he has played so far this season. It’s frustrating to watch his inconsistencies. The last season I can remember Price started this way, was in 2009-10 when Jaroslav Halak outplayed Price to take over the number one role by the midway point, through their upstart playoff run. I’m not saying Price will be usurped on this version of the Habs, primarily due to his track record along with his salary and cap hit. But if this continues there may come a time when coach Claude Julien will decide to pencil Price in one game, and Allen in the next, then repeat it.
Jeff Petry – Grade: A+
Stats: 14 GP, 6G, 8A, +12, 2 PIM, 1 GWG, 24 Hits, 18 Bks, 37 Shots
Grade Comments: Petry has been white-hot to start this pandemic shortened regular season. At the time of this writing, he was tied for second in the NHL for points among defencemen along with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman. Both are three points behind Canucks blueliner Quinn Hughes. Petry is also the club scoring leader among the Habs. As impressive as his offensive numbers have been, his defensive game has also been excellent, stepping up with a big hit or a smart takeaway on a regular basis. When you consider he has done that with a new partner in Joel Edmundson, who had to adjust to his new team and new systems, Petry’s accomplishments are even more outstanding. If his play continues he will garner strong consideration in the voting for the Norris trophy after the end of the season.
Shea Weber – Grade: A
Stats: 14 GP, 2G, 5A, +1, 10 PIM, 2 PPG, 1 GWG, 18 Hits, 18 Bks, 23 Shots
Grade Comments: The man mountain continues to be the team’s rock on defence. Although he’s not the team leader in points, hits or shots, his offensive production is still very significant to the team. He’s second on the team in points, and his average scoring rate is on par with what he produced last season. Shea and his regular partner Ben Chiarot garner the top pairing minutes among Canadiens blueliners. Typically they also get the top defensive assignments against the best opponent lines. His importance on the power play is huge; six of his seven points are with the man advantage. He remains the team’s overall leader and captain, both roles he has earned, along with the respect of his teammates.
Joel Edmundson – Grade: A
Stats: 14 GP, 1 G, 2 A, +14, 9 PIM, 27 Hits, 18 Bks, 21 Shots
Grade Comments: When it came to evaluating the veteran defenceman, I was not sure how well he would fit in on Montreal, or exactly where. Joel arrived in Montreal via a trade with Carolina, prior to his becoming an unrestricted free agent. There’s no doubt he wanted to stay in la belle province, since the negotiations only took a few days on his new four-year contract with the team. As a defender, Edmundson was known as a defence first guy and he has lived up to that reputation. He fit in so well with Jeff Petry on the second pairing that they have practically been inseparable on the ice in five on five situations. Although Edmundson is not the fleetest skater, he is positionally very sound and does not get caught out of position. What was surprising to me, is that he will jump into the offensive zone for a scoring opportunity when the chance comes up. He only chances this perhaps once a game, so he is prudent with that strategy and wisely so. Edmundson sticks up for his teammates to drop the gloves when the need arises. He is not needlessly tough as he has drawn very few penalties so far, but he is no reluctant to lay on the lumber to opponents in front of the net.
Ben Chiarot – Grade: A-
Stats: 14 GP, 1G, 3A, +2, 28 PIM, 1 PPG, 23 Hits, 23 Bks, 34 Shots
Grade Comments: Chiarot has been back on the first pairing with Shea Weber and has generally looked very good there. As part of the top shutdown pair, Chiarot plays his role well and has been reliable. Ben has been called on as the top penalty killing pair also. Scoring is not his forte but then it never was since he turned pro. His offensive production is decent, as he is close to the same pace he had last season. The one troubling thing with his play has been his relatively high number of minor penalties. Most of them he has been forced to take when he was beaten to the puck, such as holding. It’s one thing to foul another player to prevent a scoring chance, but I’ve noticed Chariot’s penalties tend to take place in the corners or the sideboards. It appears he is being too aggressive needlessly which needs to be improved.
Brett Kulak – Grade: B+
Stats: 13 GP, 3A, +3, 14 PIM, 7 Hits, 18 Bks, 19 Shots
Grade Comments: For most of this season Kulak has been on the third pairing and I believe this is his calling as a defenceman for the Habs. The responsibility level is lower and the opposition he faces is typically reduced. Although he was a good fit with Jeff Petry in the playoffs last season, the arrival of Joel Edmundson has him slotted better there. I believe Brett has progressed nicely this season playing fairly conservatively yet consistently so. The memorable gaffes I can recall seeing him make after he first arrived three seasons ago have been curtailed. He has also provided stability for rookie partner Alexander Romanov, talking to him often about the play on the ice. Kulak shares the team lead in blocked shots among defencemen. The nod should be given to him in this category since he plays less ice time than the other shot block leaders.
Alexander Romanov – Grade: B+
Stats: 13 GP, 1G, 2A, +3, 8 PIM, 32 Hits, 17 Bks, 26 Shots
Grade Comments: The long-expected appearance of Alexander Romanov in the Montreal lineup has been worth the wait. Although he signed a contract in the summer, the NHL determined he was not eligible to play in the playoff bubble. He did get the chance to skate and practice with his new teammates and that no doubt helped him acclimate better to his new team and to a new country. Alexander was paired with Kulak in the team’s training camp and that pair has been mostly kept together, except for a couple of games where Victor Mete returned to the lineup. Romanov has strong offensive skills, including a good first pass from his own zone to quickly set up a teammate for a scoring opportunity. He is also a strong skater with excellent mobility, who can easily skate the puck out of his own zone, or keep up with a speedy opponent. He has a good shot and likes to shoot the puck often. On defence, his stick work is good and he can neutralize an opponent with it. He leads the defenceman on his team in hits. Although both he and partner Kulak are left-handed shots, when Romanov is moved to the right side of the ice he adapts well to it. There have been a few times when Alexander has made a “rookie” mistake that has cost the team a goal or given the opponent a good scoring chance. These are expected, and he will learn from them and grow as a player. Romanov has a lot of enthusiasm which rubs off on his teammates, making him well-liked.
N/A: Victor Mete
The grades for the forwards will run later this week.