I have long given up the fight trying to convince the emotional mind to produce rational thought. If one made their life goal to fight this fight and lived in the city of Montreal they would find themselves in the madhouse very quickly.
The emotional fan tends to jump to scapegoating and simplistic conclusions. Fire Jacques Martin. Bring back Kirk Muller, he and his zero head coaching experience was responsible for the success, not the coach who had more than 500 wins before Captain Kirk arrived in Montreal. This is happening because they let go their best 38 year old defenseman, look how the team who finishes with 100+ points every year is doing with him in their lineup now.
Six games is not a representative sample size, if it was then Gauthier is an idiot for allowing Marc Andre Bergeron to walk, he is on pace for 105 points. The Canadiens since the lockout usually get out to a roaring start and then collapse mid-season, requiring a strong stretch run to sneak into the playoffs. That enough should offer enough proof that a poor six game stretch can take place at any point in an 82 game season and derail a playoff run.
Using the time-machine called shrpsports.com I have gone back and looked at the Canadiens early season results and compared and analyzed them to their final standing (sarcasm and sacred cows are highlighted in black). Let's start with the post-lockout Canadiens .
Coming out of the lockout the Habs jumped out to a 6-2 start and actually extended that start to 13-4-3 through 20 games. Of course ALL of that was undone after a 6-12-3 run through December cost Claude Julien his job. Julien needed to be fired. His system was boring and stifled offense and creativity, he lost the room and playing that type of system will not lead to any long term success. The Canadiens managed to get hot down the stretch riding Cristobal Huet and enjoyed an 8 game winning streak that moved them into 7th place and a first round ouster at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.
The 2007 season began with another bang as the Canadiens came out of the gate strong. With a 12-5-3 start added to their late 2006 run, optimism ran high with the emergence of sniper Chris Higgins and the Vezina level goaltending tandem of Cristobal Huet and David Aebischer. The annual mid-season meltdown occurred as the Canadiens went 8-17-1 from Christmas to mid February. The Canadiens got hot down the stretch lead by future Hall of Famer Jaroslav Halak leading to a confrontation for the ages. CBC hosted the battle for 17th to huge ratings as the Toronto Maple Leafs ousted the Canadiens and themselves from the playoff picture with a 6-5 win.
Still wincing from losing the opportunity to be eliminated by the Sabres in round one of the 2007 playoffs, the Canadiens started the season with 4 wins in their first 8 games. Through 20 games the Canadiens sat 11-6-3 and through mid-December the Canadiens were clinging to 7th place. Sitting in 8th place in February the Canadiens handed the reigns to Carey Price who lead them to a 14-4-1 finish, their best finish in close to 20 years and first place in the Eastern Conference. After a first round playoff victory against the Bruins, an all rookie team nomination, a World Junior MVP, a CHL MVP and a AHL Playoff MVP, it was obvious that Carey Price was not Patrick Roy and it was time to go to Jaroslav Halak after game two against the Flyers. Halak hinted at his future miracle playoff run with his .889 SV% and a second round loss to the Flyers.
Building on the 2008 season, the Canadiens with the addition of Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang destroyed the Eastern Conference through the early part of the season. Through 6 games the Canadiens were on the verge of becoming like the 2012 powerhouse Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens sat at 11-5-4 through 20 games and through early January were in third place 10 points clear of 9th place. The 9th place team? The pathetic Pittsburgh Penguins, a team who was on the verge of embarrassing themselves by winning the Stanley Cup in 5 months. The Canadiens limped down the stretch and were handed the opportunity to be blitzed by the Bruins in the first round by virtue of a tiebreak with the Panthers, once again proving that Carey Price doesn't have the stuff to be an elite NHL goaltender.
The Jacques Martin era begins with a bang as the Canadiens bumble out of the gate with a 2-5 start. The team of little blue forwards is over-matched by the hulking teams in the league and cannot compete struggling to maintain .500 through 40 games. The Canadiens bench the lazy, uncaring over-matched Carey Price with Jaroslav Halak and sneak into the playoffs as the 8th seed. A slow start to the season proves too much for the Canadiens to overcome as they march to the Conference Finals on the back of Steve Penney. The brilliant tactical efforts of Kirk Muller are not enough to overcome the folded arms of Jacques Martin and the Canadiens are ousted by the Flyers in the Conference Finals.
Trying to succeed in the Eastern Conference with somebody like Carey Price in goal seemed like a lost cause. The bright spot was the return of Andrei Markov. After a slow start in October, the return of Markov spurred an 11-5-1 record. Markov was lost for the season in November and was soon followed by Josh Gorges. PK Subban was benched in December and it was clear that Jacques Martin was stifling his development. After losing Cammalleri in January it was clear that he Canadiens stifling system could not possibly withstand this many injuries as they stumbled to 13-8-1 and lost in game seven OT to the eventual champion Bruins.
As we can see from the above examples, a strong start is essential to a strong finish and a 6 game sample is highly indicative of future results. There must be more examples of recent history to indicate how important an early season sample is. Let's look at the most recent Stanley Cup champion teams from Montreal.
The 1986 season began with Steve Penney in goal and a young Patrick Roy awaiting his chance. It became quite clear early that you cannot succeed with a lot of rookies playing important roles as the Canadiens stumbled out of the gate at 4-6-1. The points they gave away in October proved to be more valuable than the ones they accrued during a 14-5-1 run in November/December as the Canadiens stumbled to their 23rd Stanley Cup championship riding the backs of over-matched rookies Patrick Roy, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer and Brian Skrudland.
The 1993 season started with a new coach and a roster overhaul. In were Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows, out were Russ Courtnall and Shayne Corson. The 1993 roster was once again depending on over-matched youth and a slow start indicated that the Canadiens might need to think about replacing Patrick Roy with the young promising Andre Racicot. Although Roy had won three Vezina's and a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy during his first 7 seasons, he hadn't done it in 1992, so the 27 year old was in decline. After a 2-3-1 start the Canadiens went 12-1-1 and vaulted to the elite of the league. The calls for Racicot intensified after the Canadiens lost 11 of their final 17 and fell behind the Nordiques 2-0 in the first round. Once again, the fans were right to stick by Patrick Roy as he lead the Canadiens to their 24th Stanley Cup.
More proof that October points are just as important as the points in April as the Canadiens struggled to overcome slow starts in 1986 and 1993. Maybe changing coaches in those years would have brought more success, because you can generally tell by body language that when a coach loses the room he has to go.
The 1989 Montreal Canadiens struggled out of the gate. It was obvious early on that a young Pat Burns was over-matched for NHL competition. 4-8-1 through 13 games was a clear indication that there would be no Jack Adams awards in his future and Dick Irvin worried about him lasting into December. Last place in the Wales Conference in November made it pretty evident that the Canadiens would have to wait until 1990 to make their mark. Who knows what they could have accomplished if they hadn't given away those early points and finished the season with 117 points and not 115. Home ice advantage against the Flames could have been the difference between them losing game six of the Stanley Cup final on the road and not at home.
1-5-0? This was a definite indication that the coach needed to be fired, the GM too. What had Serge Savard accomplished anyways? 15 years and he only had two Stanley Cups, one finals appearance and two conference finals losses on his resume? It was obvious that the coach had lost the room and that the players didn't respect the two time Jack Adams, Stanley Cup winning coach anymore. I could see the look in Pierre Turgeon's face, the slumped shoulders of Patrick Roy and the deer in the headlights confusion of rookie Saku Koivu. The sensible solution would be to get rid of both of them and hire a new GM and coaching staff with zero experience. New thinking was needed and some of the All-Stars had become too complacent. Patrick Roy hadn't won a playoff series in TWO SEASONS and was in definite decline. Youth was the way to go, a fresh start could lead the Canadiens to a new dynasty. The Canadiens came to their senses fired the GM, coach and dealt their last true superstar and made a run to the first round of the playoffs on the back of a young francophone goaltender destined for greatness. Proof that emotionally reacting to small sample sizes leads to success.
Breathe. Inhale. Relax.
Has anybody learned any lessons from last season? Has anybody learned any lessons from the last 20 seasons? Put down your Molson Ex, put out your cigarette, wipe the poutine off your jersey and come in off the ledge. Would I like it better if the Canadiens were 5-0-1 today? Of course I would, but I also would have in the back of my mind that the Canadiens routinely collapse mid-season and that it secures nothing. Phil Kessel is not going to score 96 goals and finish with 164 points (prepare for the 100 post barrage from the residents of PPP for that one). Kari Lehtonen is not going to win 82 games and the Canadiens are not going to finish in 10th place.
There is 93% of the season left. That may be a good omen.