Since the National Hockey League went to their new playoff format in 2013-14, only two teams who have started off with less points than the Montreal Canadiens in their first 12 games have made the playoffs.
However, the Canadiens are currently playing better than any other team in their situation.
The two teams to make the playoffs with a slow start are the 2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers and the 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks.
The Flyers started 3-9-0 in 2013, and promptly fired their coach Peter Laviolette after an 0-3 start. The Ducks were in their final season under Bruce Boudreau and started 3-7-2 before ending up first in the Pacific Division. Many expected Boudreau to be fired after the poor start but it was the Round 1 exit that cost Boudreau his job.
If you look at it, Montreal is an outlier even among these teams. Both Anaheim and Philadelphia had nothing - other than a low PDO - to show for their efforts.
Montreal is also implementing a new system under Claude Julien. Julien coached since last February but didn’t change much in terms of style of play. That has been implemented this season. Despite that, they have been much better at controlling shots (CF% = Corsi For percentage) and at generating scoring chances (xGF% = Expected goals for percentage).
Both teams improved their play from their bad starts but even then weren’t as good as Montreal has been at either category. Where they saw another big improvement was their PDO. PDO, which adds up team shooting and save percentages, normalizes over a season more often than not at around 100.
While Montreal’s shooting percentages crept up to respectability in wins over the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, their save percentage is below where any NHL team would expect to be, never mind one with Carey Price.
Now this isn’t to say that the Canadiens will definitely bounce back and that they don’t have to make changes.
In hockey, luck is a huge part of the game. The general idea is that 33% of results are based on luck.
The Canadiens are halfway there. Another way to ensure better results is to improve the penalty kill and the power play. If you can stop the other team while taking advantage of your opportunities, it’s another way to improve your odds.
Both Philadelphia and Anaheim made changes along the way. The changes Montreal has to make are probably more minor, and as we saw in the last two games, is already occurring.
This team has been used to a November-December swoon the last two years after very good Octobers. This year, they need the reverse to happen.
While their October doesn’t mean that they are out of it, it means that their margin for error going forward is much smaller. But it has happened before, and if the Canadiens start getting rid of their bad luck, it could happen again.