Tomas Plekanec, with his goal and three assists, hit the 40-point mark in his 38th game of the season. He had 39 points all of last season. Even his career year of 2007-08 was only 69 points, and he's now on pace to obliterate that. In case you haven't been paying attention, he's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The guy on the receiving end of Plekanec's perfect saucer pass in OT was Marc-Andre Bergeron, scoring his second of the night and ninth of the season. Bergeron is only on this team because Andrei Markov is injured AND because his agent is pro-active and reached out to the Habs to remind them his client was available. Bergeron got the tying goal with the goalie pulled, and scored the winner on a beauty deke after taking that seeing-eye pass from Plekanec. He too is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and he's currently making a little over half what Georges Laraque makes.
Then there's Jaroslav Halak, the only reason this game didn't become an absolute joke after one period, when the Thrashers outshot the Habs 18-3 yet only led 1-0. Halak stopped 47 shots on the night, including a game-saver in overtime just before Bergeron's fourth game-winner of the season. He's stopped 87 of 90 shots over the past TWO games to give his team two wins they probably didn't deserve. Halak now has an 8-5-0 record with a .916 save percentage, good for 16th in the league, tied with Roberto Luongo, Cristobal Huet and Jimmy Howard. He is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and you've got to believe he'd have a pretty good case in arbitration. He's also expressed a desire to play, and if that won't happen in Montreal then he wants a chance elsewhere. Can't say I blame him.
My point here is to shed light on where this team would be without these three guys, and how likely is it that any of them will be back next season?
But that's a discussion for another day, because right now there's a lot of things that need fixing on these Canadiens. Two glaring trends stand out to me - their horrible first periods and their brutal lack of discipline.
The Habs have been outscored 37-20 in the first period this season, and outshot by a staggering margin of 384-289. They have led at the first intermission only 13 times in 38 games, and have an 8-4-1 record in those games. Just imagine what their record would be if they led after 20 minutes more often?
I keep trying to figure out reasons why this is, and none jump out at me other than pointing the finger at the coaching staff. If you take away the first period this season, the Habs have outscored their opponents 73-68 the rest of the game. So if they can do that in the second and third periods, why not the first?
The lack of discipline has reached a preposterous level. Montreal gave Atlanta six chances on the power play Monday night, meaning the Habs have been shorthanded a whopping 169 times this season. That's the highest total in the league, higher than Anaheim, a franchise that prides itself on stupid penalties. The Habs are also second in the league in minor penalties, after the Flyers. Yet they are in the middle of the pack when it comes to penalty minutes per game. That's because the Canadiens generally don't fight, or take anyone with them to the penalty box for that matter.
Even though the Habs kill penalties with the best of them (more on that in a bit), the effect of taking so many penalties are varied, and crippling. First of all, it keeps players like Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn on the bench, preventing them from establishing some rhythm. It forces Jacques Martin to overuse players like Josh Gorges and Hal Gill, who are at their best when they're playing no more than 18 minutes or so. Of course, I'm saying that as if I know, but I don't because they've been forced to play far more than that every night due to their PK duties. Finally, Plekanec winds up having ridiculous nights like he did Monday, when he played 25:02, including 7:18 while short a man. Is that really what you want your leading point-getter spending so much energy on night after night? Blocking shots and running after players in his own end?
OK, I know, the Habs won and I'm being nothing but negative. So here is some positivity to end things on a high note. After Monday's game, the Habs have the best combined special teams in the league.
The power play, dismal only a month ago, is now third in the NHL with a 23 per cent efficiency rating. Over the first 29 games of the season, Montreal was 14-for-86 with the man advantage, a 16.3 per cent clip. But over the past nine games, the Canadiens power play has hit on 12 of 27 chances, a ridiculous 44.4 per cent success rate. The arrival of Andrei Markov can only help in that area.
Meanwhile, the penalty killing unit is defying the odds and sits seventh in the NHL at 84 per cent. To just put that in perspective, if the Habs were merely average penalty killers and saw their efficiency drop only four points to 80, they would have allowed eight more power play goals so far this season. The Canadiens played their 22nd one-goal game on Monday night, winning for the 10th time. How many of those wins do you think would have turned into losses thanks to those eight extra power play goals against?
The quality of a team's special teams units is generally measured by adding the success rate of the power play to that of the penalty killers. If the number equals more than 100, you're in pretty good shape. The Canadiens number is now 107, tied with the New York Rangers for tops in the NHL.
But, as Habs fans probably know better than anyone, any team that relies too much on special teams is not bound to go very far come spring time. Martin loves saying games are often decided by goaltending and special teams. Problem is, his team has had little else going for it of late.