The Montreal Canadiens are defying their critics.
The Habs have put together an improbable hot streak, taking five wins and eleven points in their last six games. They've scored 22 goals in that time, allowing only thirteen in the same period. Perhaps most impressively, the Canadiens have kept up their streak even in the recent absence of Carey Price, who is still not back from an injury suffered in the Sochi Olympic Games.
The Habs have managed to beat good teams and bad, shutting out the Flames and beating up on the Hurricanes while also edging the Penguins and coming up just short against Detroit. The Habs have won by coming back, and won by jumping ahead and protecting their lead. Whether a low-scoring shutout or a Pennsylvania barn-burner, the Canadiens have got the job done, and they've done so consistently.
The streak isn't without concern, however. Outpossessing the Penguins, and especially the Leafs, have pushed the Habs ten game rolling Fenwick close up toward 50%, a plateau the team hasn't reached since the end of December. They've done so with a heaping helping of luck, however, as the team's PDO has skyrocketed during their recent streak. To wit:
At 1056, the sum of their team shooting and save percentages is well beyond the team's previous high point. It isn't unheard of for a team to maintain a higher-than-average PDO, even over a period of time as long as a season, but the point where the Canadiens stand currently is far beyond the realm of sustainability. A crash is coming, and to guard against it, the Canadiens need to prove that they can continue to push the play to their opponents and not rely simply on opportunistic scoring and two goaltenders who are enjoying career years. If the Habs are looking to prove that they've made a legitimate improvement, the trip they're embarking on now is the time to do it.
The Canadiens already know how tough the Los Angeles Kings can be. The league's pre-eminent possession squad, the Kings have been a perpetual contender for almost three seasons now. Their forward depth is matched by few teams in hockey, and their defence corps is led by the outstanding Drew Doughty. Their domination isn't quite as complete as it has been in previous years, but the Kings are still comfortably in the playoffs and are an opponent that no team wants to draw in the first round. The Kings don't need much to go on, as the Habs learned when the Kings took some early luck and turned it into a 6-0 thrashing.
As has been the case for most of their season, the Habs advantages lie outside of the straight-up, 5v5 matchup. Montreal is far superior on special teams, and with Habs back-up Peter Budaj having a strong season, either of the Canadiens goalie should be able to match-up with likely Kings starter Jonathan Quick. Perhaps most importantly, for all of their puck possession dominance, the Kings are one of the only teams that can contend with Montreal's even strength anemia. If the Canadiens continue their win streak tonight, it will likely be on the strength of one of these factors.
These things don't last forever, though. The Habs have a choice, and that's to prove that they can go toe-to-toe with the league's best in all phases of the game, or continue to watch their success follow the line on the PDO graph. Can the Habs continue to defy their critics and prolong their win streak, or will they watch the Kings extend theirs? The answer lies in the forty minutes that the Habs will spend outside of their comfort zone this evening.