Mar 21, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges (26) during play against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Canadiens 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

Montreal Canadiens Defence Pairings: Part 1

My latest Habs occupation over the summer is trying to piece together how the blueline worked last season. A great help in this endevour is the ability to do with you/with out you analysis based on information availible at two websites:


But since your the lucky sort that reads A Winning Habit, you don’t have to do all that for yourself. You can relax with your coffee and let me do the work.

As I did the breakdown, it became clear that we could divide the defensive lineup into 4 groups. The top pairing of PK Subban and Josh Gorges (the good); the middle three of Tomas Kaberle, Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz (the decent); the bottom of the lineup defenders Hal Gill, Chris Campoli and Yannick Weber (the ugly); and those that didn’t play much for the Habs Yaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov and Fredric St. Denis (the bystanders).

Today we look at the first two groups, their results broken down into a handy chart:

Subban/Gorges Kaberle/Emelin/Diaz Weber/Campoli/Gill




















The good: Gorges-Subban

There’s no two bones about it, when Gorges and Subban were on the ice, the Habs were winning.  They were the top shutdown line and played the hardest minutes playing the teams lowest zone start ratio and by far the toughest competition.

but came out with an excellent +16 (+48, -32) compared to the team’s -12 at even strength. They were also easily the best pairing by measurements like fenwick and corsi. Its unfortunate that the team declined so much over the course of the season as their advanced stats declined with them. The two were demonstrably elite together last year and were every inch the first pairing.

Separated neither performed as well with the other defenders but largely managed to keep the score even or better which marks them out as the teams’ top defenders.

The decent: Diaz, Emelin and Kaberle

As a rule these players did decent to good with each other or the top defensemen but sunk with the lower parts of the depth chart, showing that they are respectible players who aren’t good enough to carry a pairing at even strength.

Kaberle probably got unfairly maligned last season. He was poor with the Hurricanes to start the year but his performance with the Habs was far more respectable. -2 on 5 on 5 (no empty nets) play while being -5 in much fewer games in Carolina.

By plus minus Kaberle is easily the Habs 3rd best defender. However he got a zone start advantage that Emelin and Diaz lacked, which demonstrates how he was used more in offensive situations. In Corsi terms Emelin and Diaz were ~48% while Kaberle was only ~47%.

Kaberle-Emelin was the best 2nd pairing, they were dead even 50% in corsi and goals. Emelin-Diaz was respectable on corsi with 49.3% but lagged on goals (-3).

Emelin was a big minus in general, but this appears to be a result of being the teams 3rd most relied upon defender 5 on 5. He fell most when playing with Subban+Gorges (playing top pairing) or with one of the lesser defenders (playing 2nd pairing with weak partner). a sub .900 save% behind him didn’t help matters either.

Emelin also played with Markov and was -5 doing so, which may have been bad luck on a weak lineup more than anything else. Despite the poor stats it might be a viable 2nd pairing next year.

In general these three appear to be #5 defensemen on a good squad. Capable of 2nd pair action but not leaders and not so good they can’t be sunk by a weak partner. Two of them together would be a strong 3rd pair. The key is finding real 2nd pairing defenders so they can be put in a 3d pair situation. Markov could be the answer there.

Tomorrow we continue our look by going down to the bottom of the depth chart and seeing what strange and ugly beasts reside there.


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Tags: Alexei Emelin Josh Gorges Pk Subban Raphael Diaz Tomas Kaberle

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