With the playoffs well in the rear window, it’s time to reflect on Montreal’s postseason performances with our final set of grades. This article will focus on the goaltenders and defencemen.
Players must have played in a minimum of four games to receive a grade.
Carey Price – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 13W, 9L, 1 Shutout, 2.28 GAA, .924 SV%
Grade Comments: Before the start of this playoffs, I thought about how well Carey played in last season’s playoffs. This year, he turned up his performance to an eleven. The team overall had struggled for the first four games of the series against Toronto and Price did not perform too badly allowing ten goals but losing games two through four. Then something seemed to click with both Price and the rest of the team; they all bounced back and won the last three games of the series to surprise the Leafs with an upset. The next round the Habs swept the Jets and Price allowed only six goals in those four games. In the third round, Vegas got four goals past him in the first games but then Price settled in and was stellar for the next five games, allowing only nine goals. Price was a big reason the team went as far as they did. Although he is very highly paid with a cap hit of ten and a half million dollars, it is not that extreme considering his goaltending peers. When you calculate the average cap hit of the four starting goalies from the other three teams in the conference finals work out to over $6.6 million dollars, Price’s amount seems somewhat justifiable.
Jeff Petry – Grade: A
Stats: 20 GP, 0G, 6A, -2, 6 PIM, 51 Hits, 31 Bks, 36 Shots
Grade Comments: Jeff was a rock for this team in the playoffs. Despite missing two games after injuring his finger in the rink glass camera hole, Petry still managed to tie for the team lead in points with Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson. I don’t think any Montreal fan will forget Petry’s blood-red eyes after he returned, giving him a demonic possession-like look. Later it was revealed that he burst several blood vessels in his eyes when his finger was popped back into place after his injury. His offensive production was not at the same level as he was at through the first two-thirds of the regular season, but he still played excellent defensively to help propel his team far into the playoffs.
Shea Weber – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 1G, 5A, +4, 28 PIM, 1 PPG, 72 Hits, 40 Bks, 48 Shots, 25:13 TOI
Grade Comments: It’s incredible to think how well the Canadiens captain performed in these four playoff series when you consider how banged up he was. At the end of the team’s run, it was reported Shea had injuries to his ankle, thumb, and foot. During the post-playoff press conference, it was mentioned that he’s unlikely to play next season and his career may be over. Watching Weber, he rarely took one of his signature big slapshots, but he still led all Habs defencemen with 48 shots. He gave it everything he had, and no one can be surprised by his emotional breakdown when the final buzzer sounded to end the playoffs.
Joel Edmundson – Grade: A
Stats: 22 GP, 0G, 6A, -3, 10 PIM, 65 Hits, 30 Bks, 23 Shots, 23:23 TOI
Grade Comments: Edmundson was a very steady influence on defence for the Habs alongside partner Jeff Petry. This was particularly true for the first three playoff series. His size and strength were so important for neutralizing opponents in front of the net and in the corners. His skating skills are only average but he is a surprisingly smart defender who can surprise the opposition with a good first pass from his zone to launch the forwards into offence. He had good plus-minus stats and good advanced stats also. The only mistake I can remember by Joel was in Game Five of the Final when he was unable to prevent Ross Colton from driving to the net to score the Stanley Cup-winning goal. However, Joel surprisingly produced six assists, to tie teammates Shea Weber and Jeff Petry for the team lead among defencemen.
Ben Chiarot – Grade: B
Stats: 22 GP, 1G, 1A, -6, 16 PIM, 88 Hits, 48 Bks, 33 Shots, 25:14 TOI
Grade Comments: Chiarot was again paired with his usual blueline partner in the regular season, Shea Weber, for the most part. Luke Richardson did mix up the pairings a fair amount during the playoffs with the third pairing not playing much together. Although he was good at playing physically in the four postseason rounds, his advanced stats took a significant dip. For some reason, Ben forced many more icings than any of the other defencemen, especially in the series against Vegas. During the regular season, Ben would usually jump into the play to start a rush, or to play the role of the fourth man in the offensive zone, but he seemed to lack confidence to try this during the playoffs. Perhaps he was following the instructions of the coaching staff who wanted all blueliners to play a safer style. Surprisingly, Chiarot led all Canadiens blueliners in average time on ice, and his time was one second more than Weber’s.
Alexander Romanov – Grade: C+
Stats: 4 GP, 1G, -2 0 PIM, 8 Hits, 5 Bks, 3 Shots, 12:24 TOI
Grade Comments: Romanov was absent for most of the playoffs as he was only pencilled into the lineup four times. He did play the last two games of the final series and scored a nice goal on a wrist shot from the blueline. It seems the coaching staff had less confidence in Romanov’s play based on the regular season being his first in the NHL. That is unfortunate because to my eyes he played well enough, simplifying his game to better fit into the stricter defensive strategy the team employed for the playoffs.
Brett Kulak – Grade: C-
Stats: 13 GP, 1A, -4, 4 PIM, 12 Hits, 6 Bks, 11 Shots
Grade Comments: Kulak did not have the strongest showing among the team’s defenders. His regular season performance and his advanced stats were all pretty good and he seemed to settle into a third pairing role. Once the playoffs started, he struggled. Most of the third pairing defencemen for the Habs did the same, which led Richardson to give more ice time to the top four. I wonder if his confidence was shaken again, by the arrivals of veterans Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson.
Erik Gustafsson – Grade: D
Stats: 16 GP, 1G, 2A, +3, 1 PPG, 8 Hits, 4 Bks, 4 Shots, 10:00 TOI
Grade Comments: Gustafsson came as advertised, an offensive blueliner with an unfortunate penchant for defensive lapses and bad turnovers. One example was during Game One against Winnipeg when Erik coughed up the puck on the power play, to allow a breakaway for the Jets forward, who scored. He scored a power play goal in the Jets series in Game Three but was not as effective on the power play as Marc Bergevin had hoped when he traded for him before the deadline. As the Habs went further into the playoffs, Gustafsson got less and less time, until he was scratched for the last two games of the Final due to a bad defensive performance again in Game Three. Although his advanced stats were good, the eye test is what was used to grade him.
Jon Merrill – Grade: D
Stats: 13 GP, 0G, 0A, -4, 0 PIM, 11 Hits, 23 Bks, 6 Shots, 12:53 TOI
Grade Comments: Merrill was another trade deadline acquisition that never fit in with the Canadiens. With Detroit, arguably one of the worst teams last season, his advanced stats were decent; even his plus/minus was relatively good for a very bad team. However, he did not jell with Shea Weber and was bounced around the pairings not settling in anywhere. He missed seven straight games in the playoffs starting with Game Six against the Leafs, then returned for Game Two against Vegas. For the last two games against Tampa, he was a healthy scratch which allowed Romanov a chance to play.