OTTAWA, ON. — When news broke this past summer that Alex Galchenyuk would finally become a full-time centreman, there was a collective sigh of relief amongst Habs fans. Fans were rightfully excited; the former third overall pick would have his chance at his natural position after an offseason full of strength and conditioning. Galchenyuk came to camp visibly stronger and prepared to prove that the team’s belief in his ability at centre is warranted.
The moment the news was announced, fans and media began speculating who Galchenyuk’s linemates would be. Max Pacioretty, Zack Kassian, Nikita Scherbak, Charles Hudon and more were all a part of the speculation, but it’s Lars Eller and Alexander Semin who have been called upon for the role.
In his post-season interviews Eller reiterated numerous times that he could help the team more offensively. Personally I felt that there was a negative tone in his voice. In fact, he seemed almost disappointed in the role he had been given as the team’s third line, shutdown centreman. I’ve written many times about the true value of Lars Eller both defensively and even offensively relative to the lack of opportunity he has been given.
Playing alongside Galchenyuk and Semin, Eller finally has his chance to prove that he is more than a defensive specialist.
Alex Semin became a free agent at the end of last season and like many veterans he had to wait a little while before signing a contract. The news of Semin’s signing with Montreal was received with mixed views. Semin has been labeled as lazy, unreliable, a poor teammate and one of the most offensively gifted players in the league.
The fact is, Alex Semin can be a part of something great. The Habs have built a strong team on the ice and in the dressing room. I’ll repeat what I said when the signing was announced: if the Habs can integrate Semin, this signing has the chance to be something special.
#Habs constantly talk about leadership and the team's stable foundation of character. If they can integrate Semin, this will be great.
— Corey Desormeaux (@xCoreyDx) July 24, 2015
So it’s been nine games that we’ve seen this line together. They have a nice mix of size and skill and have shown flashes of brilliance and there’s no doubt that Michel Therrien is relying on them to generate offence. Eller, Galchenyuk and Semin lead the team in ZSO% (percentage of all on-ice non-neutral zone faceoffs in the offensive zone), each over 20 per cent. The only other Habs player to be over 20 per cent is David Desharnais. To provide you with an interesting comparison, Pacioretty’s ZSO% is -6.32.
Using the zone start percentage statistics above one could argue that Therrien is relying on them to generate offence or that he is still working to acquire trust defensively in Galchenyuk at centre and Semin in general.
I hope that Michel Therrien gives them time to continue to grow together. Many of the other lines, aside from Tomas Fleischmann’s integration have had experience together. In general, the team looks familiar with one another and this will take time for Eller, Galchenyuk and Semin to find. This coupled with both Eller and Galchenyuk adjusting to new roles, and Semin getting accustomed to a new city and teammates, this line is more than holding their own.
It’s extremely early in the season, but at 5-on-5, Galchenyuk is leading forwards in points per 60 (2.95), first assist per 60 (1.77) and has a point on every single goal scored while he is on the ice. Lars Eller is third amongst forwards in goals per 60 (1.73) and both he and Semin are in the top five of individual Corsi per 60.
These numbers, although unrealistic to expect them to sustain are encouraging signs. This 9-0-0 run to start the season has been a pleasure, and a riot to watch. Here’s hoping the Montreal Canadiens continue the streak on Tuesday and officially make history starting the season 10-0-0.