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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
All season, one of the most common elements of the Montreal Canadiens has been the surprising rate that they continue to take penalties despite not being a particularly physical squad. Yes, it's easy to look at the PIM totals and say who the culprits are, but that doesn't take into account the fact that some play more than others. So, just who is the most proficient at taking penalties?
Let's start by looking at the defencemen. There are a trio of Habs who sit in the top-30 amongst NHL D's in terms of minor penalties taken: Subban (1st), Hamrlik (T-3rd), and Mara (T-28). But as we all know, Subban and Hamrlik log the most minutes. So to assess how frequently they take penalties, I've compared their total TOI (rounded to the nearest minute) with minor penalties taken. Here are the results:
So although Subban is the league leader in minor penalties on defence, he isn't the most guilty culprit in terms of getting sent to the box too often relative to time on ice. At the other end of the spectrum, we see Sopel which may very well be another reason why he was Pierre Gauthier's target before the deadline. Not only is he a decent defender in his own end, but if he can stay out of the box, he could prove to be more valuable, particularly in late game situations when avoiding dumb penalties is a must.
Onto the forwards now. We have been talking all season about Pouliot's struggles in avoiding dumb penalties but he's not exactly the only culprit amongst the forwards. There are 3 Habs in the NHL's top-50 forwards in minor penalties, Plekanec (T-13), Pouliot (T-36), and Eller (T-46). Obviously, Plekanec plays a lot so the quantity is a little more understandable but where does he fit in with the rest of the attackers in terms of TOI per minor penalty?
Note: Only forwards with 100 minutes played qualified for the list so players who have played less but have taken penalties (Boyd, Palushaj) aren't included in this assessment.
I must admit, when I started putting this together, I expected to see Gomez relatively high on the list. Instead, he sits in the bottom half suggesting that although his penalties have a tendency to be untimely, he clearly doesn't take as many as some in the local media may lead you to believe. Not surprisingly, Pouliot and Eller, both players who have had noted struggles this year with staying out the box, sit atop the top of this list. So too does Plekanec, which is a grave concern considering he is the team's best penalty killer. I was a little surprised to see Pacioretty this high but as he was playing with a physical edge, it is understandable.
The last two names really jump out at me. The fact that Pyatt has taken just 1 minor penalty this season says a lot about his discipline and also why Jacques Martin has used him in more games than some would like (though the team has a much better record with him in than without him). As for Gionta, he leads all forwards in TOI but sits 2nd lowest in this stat. That coupled with the intensity he brings most nights is a positive sign that he's leading by example in this area. If only some of his teammates would follow suit, the Habs just might be able to stay away from leading the league in minor penalties before the season ends.