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The Grades Are in - Part 2

November 29, 2022, 9:20 PM ET [274 Comments]
Karine Hains
Montreal Canadiens Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow me @KarineHains for all updates about the Montreal Canadiens and women's hockey

After grading the forwards for the first quarter of the season yesterday, it’s time to do the same with the goaltenders and defensemen.

First up, the netminders. It was a really tough year in net last season, without Carey Price and with an injury bug that just wouldn’t leave Jake Allen alone, we saw a lot of goalies between the pipes and none of them could stop the team from hemorrhaging. This season, the Canadiens started with Allen and Montembeault as their go-to tandem, allowing Cayden Primeau to finally have some time to develop in the AHL.

Jake Allen: The Canadiens’ number one since Carey Price bowed out. The season didn’t start badly for Allen, but he’s had a tough time lately, so much so that his numbers have suffered a lot. As things stand, he’s played in 13 games and has a 3.62 GAA and a .891 SP. Obviously, those numbers are not good enough for a number one goaltender, but Allen as always performed better in a supporting role, and no one should be shocked. In his latest games, he’s had some issues with both puck tracking and rebound control, hopefully, he can straighten the ship soon. C

Samuel Montembeault: Perhaps the most pleasant surprise this season. Last year, I was far from being sold on Montembeault and I thought he had big consistency issues. Now though, after having had a wrist operation in the off-season, he’s performing much better and while Martin St-Louis says that Jake Allen is still his number one, that might have to change if things keep going the way they are. In 8 matches played, Mounty has got a 2.48 GAA and a 0.924 SP. Those are starters numbers, but he’s yet to handle a starter’s workload though, we’ll have to see how that goes if it gets to that. A-

Kaiden Guhle: Without a doubt the most impressive defenseman this season. At just 20 years of age, the rookie was thrown into the deep end on the first pairing alongside David Savard as the Canadiens’ blue line was decimated by injuries and did he ever step up! He’s strong, he’s quick, he can move the puck and land some punishing hits, he can do it all period and being so young, he’s bound to improve in time. He’s thrived so far, so much so that he is exempt from St-Louis’ rotation system for rookie, the coach having said “Guhle has got his spot with Savy”. Hard to ask for anything more from a rookie blueliner. A+

David Savard: He was asked to fit really big shoes this season and he’s performed above expectations in a role which was clearly too big for him. Often asked to play over 20 minutes a night, Savard has made the best of a bad situation and even though things have been harder for him of late, he was pretty solid at the start of the season. It seems like the extra time on ice has taken its toll and things look like they are going a bit too fast for him lately. B

Arber Xhekaj: Talk about a Cinderella story, the undrafted defenseman has had to work very hard to get where he is and he’s not going to stop working anytime soon. Fans have responded very well to Wifi’s brand of rugged hockey, bone crushing hits and fights when needed doubled with good mobility and stickhandling, what’s not to like? He’s even found a place for himself on the second power-play unit. The one downside though is that he’s taking a lot of penalties (2nd in penalty minutes league wide, behind Nicolas Deslauriers), that comes with the territory I guess but he’s got to learn to avoid traps set by opponents who know referees are watching him closely. A-

Jordan Harris: Out of all the young guns, he’s the one who’s had to skip his turn most often. Initially, it was thought that he would be asked to play on his off side on the right but Jonathan Kovacevic’s arrival has changed that and it doesn’t give him an advantage to get in the line-up anymore. Still, he’s performed well, and I for one I’m glad he decided to sign with the Habs once his NCAA career was over. In 18 games, he’s got a goal and 5 assists to his name, and plays some solid intelligent hockey, his decision making is sharp, but there is still room for improvement. B

Jonathan Kovacevic: An early season waiver pick-up, Kovacevic has been impressive for the Habs so far. A right-handed defenseman, his arrival filled an organizational need and straight from the get-go, he clicked very well with Jordan Harris. At 25, he still qualifies as a rookie and has shown he can be very useful to the time. His arrival and the return from injuries have reminded Chris Wideman that he is the 7th defenseman when players are healthy. At times, I’ve found that his speed was somewhat lacking, but it's hard to ask for more from a waiver pick-up. B+

Chris Wideman: He was signed to be an insurance policy, a leader and a good example for the young blueliners in the room but circumstances decided otherwise, and he was called upon a lot at the start of the year. With Edmundson and Matheson’s returns, his appearances in the line-up have been rarer and that’s not a bad thing. He can be useful but there are issues on the defensive side of his game which are glaringly obvious when you are forced to use him too much. Still, what he brings in the room (including his great nickname for Xhekaj) helps him get a passing grade. C

I’ll resist the urge of grading Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson since injuries made them miss the start of the season and both still appear to be playing catch-up. Although I will say that shockingly, the defense seemed to be performing better before their return. Icing a very young blue line was a big concern for Kent Hughes but the youngsters have proven that they could hold their own and maybe, just maybe the general manager will be tempted to move a veteran to get more assets in his rebuilding effort.

Tonight, the Canadiens will host the San Jose Sharks and Jake Allen will be back in net while Jordan Harris will return to the line-up at the expense of Arber Xhekaj. Sean Monahan, who has been receiving treatments instead of practicing lately, will be in the line-up centering Armia and Anderson while Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin remain injured.

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