Yes, the good news is in the title, but read on....
Each season, just around New Year's day, From The Rink 's James Mirtle gets out his calculator and sets down his playoff push prognostications by tabulating what minimum rate a team must play at in the second half to make the post season.
James usually bases his sights on a team reaching the 92 point plateau as equivalent to being assured one of eight playoff positions. This season, according to his calculations, teams currently in eighth spot are behind that 92 points pace, and James has readjusted the gaze at 90 points. Says Mirtle:
James usually bases his sights on a team reaching the 92 point plateau as equivalent to being assured one of eight playoff positions. This season, according to his calculations, teams currently in eighth spot are behind that 92 points pace, and James has readjusted the gaze at 90 points.
Teams projected to finish in eighth are on pace for extremely low point totals compared to recent years. Edmonton is currently in that spot in the West and headed for 86.7 points; Buffalo and Carolina are tied in the East and on pace for just 86.4 points. The average of the six eighth place teams in three postlockout seasons has been 93.3 points, and it stands to reason that teams that make the playoffs in 2008-09 will pick up the pace as the contenders and also rans are sorted out.
In regards to the Canadiens meeting the 90 point mark, Mirtle figures that they would have to play at 21-25-0 over their final 46 games to meet this mark. With 92 points up for graps in those games, the important stat becomes the points won columns; Montreal could go 19-23-4, or 17-23-6, or to extremes, 1-5-40 - as long as they gain a possible 42 points in 46 games to place them over the 90 point hump.
Two things to note from James' post is that Montreal are one of six team that could play at a 75 point season pace for the rest of schedule and still make the post season.
The other important note is that no team in post lockout hockey has made the playoffs with less than 91 points. The 2006-07 Canadiens just missed the mark that season, finishing with 90 points.
What this all says about the Canadiens playoff chances in general terms is that, barring a disaster, Montreal is a post season shoe - in.
Or so you would think!
The Canadiens currently have a record of 21-9-6 for 48 points after 36 games. In 2006-07, after 36 contests, they were 22-9-5 for 49 points. That season, all they would have needed to clinch eighth place was a record of 21-25-0 in the final 46 games, the same current Mirtle prognostication as this season, in order to get in. They instead went 20-25-1, finally missing out by a trivial single point lost along the route.
Last season at this point in time, the Canadiens didn't yet give the impression that they would finish first in their conference by any stretch. They sat in fifth place, with a record of 17-13-6 for 40 points. Needing a 25-20-1 record to give them 91 points, the Habs ran up a surprising record of 30-12-4, the additional 13 points gained being the difference between eighth place and first.
This season, the Canadiens are 9 points ahead of last season's pace, after 36 games, as the title of this piece points out. If they were to maintain their pace set this season, they would finish with 111 points. If they were to reassume the pace of last season's final 46 games, they would end up with 112 points.
Given either pace, the team is on target to exceed last season's point totals.
To place into perspective what the Canadiens have so far achieved, one needs to scope a little deeper.
Along the course of the 2007-08 campaign, all things seemed to flow in the Habs favor. Injuries to the team's core players were at a bare minimum of games lost. Alex Kovalev seemed on mission, destined to have a career year. Other players were following his lead. The club's power play maintained it's top ranking, being a lethal weapon nightly. They beat the Bruins in all 8 meetings.
Critics and naysayers listed last year's breaks as a reason why the Canadiens might not have a repeat performance this season
In this current campaign, none of last season's so called breaks have held true.
Key players such as Mike Komisarek, Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins, and Andrei Kostitsyn have been out of the lineup for a combined 43 games. Alex Kovalev is on pace for a 71 point season, a 13 point drop. Linemates Tomas Plekanec and Kostitsyn are also behind expected projections. The club's much vaunted power play has submarined from top spot down to 25th in the league. Meetings with the Bruins have been reduced from 8 to 6, and the Canadiens have a 1-1-1 record in three meetings with them so far.
Other more minor issues have also affected the Canadiens standing. Sophomore winger Sergei Kostitsyn has disapointed at times, and has sat out some games. Ditto for Guillaume Latendresse. Ryan O'Byrne, expected the grab a regular spot in the starting six on defense has regressed a been demoted. Fill - in on D, reconstituted winger Mathieu Dandeneault was felled by injury just as he began to fit in. Free agent signing, policeman Georges Laraque, who was expected to add inches of bravery to every Hab player on the team, has become, due to recurring injuries, such an afterthought, that his absense has been insignificant.
And then there is that heavy burden of playing in the franchises one hundredth season, where expectations of achieving anyting less than a 25th Stanley Cup would term the season a whitewash.
Throw all this disruption at most team's lineups, and they would coil, roll up and die, and wait until next year. Somehow, this Canadiens bunch are managing to be on pace for a better season, and perhaps even a better end result, Cup or not.
So just what gives? Just what is making this Canadiens team, not only tick, but run progressively forward?
It starts with organization, team concepts, destination, and ultimate goals.
There is much more to this Canadiens team than meets the eye. It is in continuous building mode, and players have been progressing as we watch. There has been adversity along the way, and that is never a bad thing. Adversity causes teams to grow.
A smoothe season with few roadbumps is often a dangerous proposition. Last season's Canadiens were ill prepared for adversity when it hit them, because all had gone their way. When they met resistence, it confounded them. This year's club, because of what it has so far endured and battled, is better equiped to meet those challenges head on.
There is an old saying that goes "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." It could be a myth, or an easily dismissed slogan. One could take it whichever way they wish, but the notion behind the saying testifies the benefits to character in the lessons learned through adversity.
Perhaps the biggest difference in how this regular season will end, has to do with the fact that the Canadiens happen to be chasing a red hot Bruins club and not the free falling and fragile Ottawa Senators for first place. The gap is no cause for pessimism at all. With 46 games left, there is much room for cautious optimism.
If the Habs fall short of catching the Bruins, the chase for the ultimate goal isn't lessened by starting out in the fourth playoff slot rather than the first. The Canadiens have been there many times before, against Boston, and emerged on the winning side. It is odds they know how to beat.