Canadiens fans have been fooled.
It happens to every fanbase, and there's really no shame in it. Fans and media continue to point to Montreal's record, even as it continues to get worse, and say that Michel Therrien isn't doing a bad job. The fact is, the record is highly inflated due to Carey Price being impossibly good, and a 10 game streak that the Canadiens didn't earn, so much as got lucky during.
The signs of struggling were there in November, which we can see by taking a look at the Habs' 10 game rolling average Corsi for percentage in tied, and close situations.
When you look at last season, you can see why the Canadiens were winning. They consistently outplayed teams in close and tied situations, creating more scoring chances and as a result, outscoring opponents and winning games. The strong play continued through the playoffs and into the 2013-14 season, then abruptly collapsed into an elevator shaft. Montreal's possession game continues to trend downward, with their last 10 games being the worst of all, clocking in at an abysmal 41.9% Corsi while the score is close, and 41.6% when the score is tied.
You don't need possession numbers to see that something is wrong. The Canadiens can't generate offense to save their lives, and they get trapped in their own zone constantly. So why did it change in the first place? The previous plan was working well, right?
Panic in small samples
Michel Therrien is not known for being calm. The new version of Therrien is certainly calmer than his two previous coaching stints, but he lost his composure after game one of the playoffs last season, and those 4 losses in 5 games were likely the first strike against the system he was running.
Let's keep in mind that nothing here is conclusive, but in trying to figure out why the change was made, we have to consider that Therrien doesn't seem to have the greatest grasp of what creates wins in the NHL, and whether what's happening is sustainable. His entire career is evidence of that.
Looking for some reasoning behind the change, my first instinct was to look at even strength shooting percentage, and as it turns out, there's a strong correlation.
Last season the Canadiens were an above average shooting team, which along with their dominant possession performance at even strength led to them being the third highest scoring team in the NHL, and the 5th highest at even strength.
This is why I find it so laughable when Therrien's defenders claim that he's getting the most he possibly can out of the roster he has. This same coach with this same roster had one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. Since the system change, he's run one of the worst.
The 10 game streak in November that everyone keeps raving about as proof of Therrien's coaching prowess was nothing but a run on shooting percentage while continuing to play poorly. In actual fact, that 10 game streak is likely the worst possible thing that could have happened to the Habs this year. Either it extended Therrien's lifespan as coach of the Canadiens, or validated a system change that has been wholly brutal in every other instance.
We can't know for sure that this is what led to the drastic return to Therrien's bread and butter dump and chase system, but I don't think it's an unreasonable observation to make.