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Top-3 Early-Season Surprises For The Montreal Canadiens

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Montreal Canadiens defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic

The Montreal Canadiens entered the 2022-23 season with a bevy of question marks surrounding the roster, which resulted in a chaotic, yet entertaining start to the year.

With a 7-6-1 record (0.536), they have surpassed most early-season expectations thanks to excellent play from some surprising sources.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top-3 surprises through 14 games of the regular season in no particular order.

Samuel Montembeault

The Canadiens have improved their overall share of shots this year, going from just 46.9 percent (26th) last season to 48.2 percent (24th) in 2022-23. But they’re still among the worst teams in the league when it comes to controlling high-danger chances.

As it stands, they’re actually controlling fewer high-quality scoring opportunities than they did last year, a little under 41 percent of the overall chances, good for 29th in the NHL.

But thanks to Montembeault’s excellent play, the Canadiens have managed to stay afloat in rather treacherous waters.

The 26-year-old goaltender has produced fantastic numbers at 5v5, including 1.98 goals against average and a 0.939 save percentage, which is good for 9th overall in the league among all goaltenders that have made two or more starts.

Montembeault has also saved 2.7 goals above average, which places him among the top 12 goaltenders in the league.

Seeing as he carries one of the lowest salaries on the team and was originally claimed on waivers, it’s fair to say Montembeault’s play has come as a surprise.

A very welcome surprise.

Johnathan Kovacevic

You can’t expect to find top-pairing defencemen on waivers, but every once in a while you can find a gem.

That’s exactly what Kent Hughes did when he claimed Kovacevic off waivers, though the original expectations were rather low.

The consensus was that the team had put their hands on a right-handed defenceman with limited experience but a reasonable amount of potential. He could serve as a stop-gap measure as the rest of the Canadiens rookies find their rhythm in the NHL.

Instead, the Canadiens ended up acquiring their best defenceman from a statistical point of view. A relatively small loss for the Winnipeg Jets turned into a big win for the Montreal Canadiens.

We discussed Kovacevic’s great underlying numbers in this piece, but given how impressive they are, they deserve a quick recap.

At 5v5, Kovacevic leads all Canadiens defencemen in shot share (CF%), goal share (GF%), expected goal share (xGF%), high-danger shot share (HDCF%) and high-danger goals (HDGF%).

He’s quickly established that he’s not just a band-aid solution for a questionable blue line, but rather, he’s a player with a fair amount of untapped potential that simply needed more ice time to earn a spot on an NHL roster.

Kirby Dach

Martin St-Louis’ top line had no issues scoring goals at the start of the year, but if we’re comparing their underlying numbers to art, they looked a lot more like the aftermath of a toddler’s spaghetti tantrum than something we’d see at the Louvre.

In other words, they relied on pure talent, but the process was a mess.

The moment Dach, a centre, was placed on the wing alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, things suddenly got better. A lot better.

Before Dach’s arrival, the Canadiens’ top line had generated a paltry 7 high-danger chances at 5v5, while also allowing their opponents to take 27 high-danger shots, which resulted in a disappointing 20.6 percent control of the quality chances.

With Dach, the line has maintained an even control of high-danger chances, which has pushed their expected goals for percentage (xGF%) from 33.9 percent to 50.3 percent.

It’s also worth noting Dach would be leading the Blackhawks in scoring with 4 goals and 8 assists this season.

(All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)

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Jimmy Panagoulias

2 out of the 3 where pick up by waivers.

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