1. The fancy numbers may have been correct
Early this season, the Montreal Canadiens were struggling to make any headway in the standings despite outplaying their opponents. Advanced statistics showed Montreal often dominating puck possession, attempting more shots than they allowed on their net, but unable to collect many wins.
While PDO indicators don’t always regress, it certainly felt to Canadiens fans that their team was better than the results it had shown. To make matters worse, the Habs went through a stretch of awful games in November where the effort was simply not up to par, and the losses were as deserved as they were embarrassing.
For the last five games, however, the team’s MVP goaltender has returned to otherworldly status, the offence has produced 24 goals (an average of nearly five goals per game) and the team is rising up the ranks of the Atlantic Division.
There’s lots of season left, but the turnaround Montreal has experienced supports the early-season bad luck theory.
2. Your prescription: moderated optimism
It feels good, right? The Canadiens scored 10 goals last night, which is way better than getting scored on that many times.
However, before we start saving for playoff tickets, let’s be sure to remember that the Habs are barely clinging to a playoff spot. But a mere single point up on 10th place in the Eastern Conference isn’t as bad as the situation looked after 65 minutes in Nashville on November 22, when the Predators handed the Habs a fifth straight loss and had them sitting in 27th place of the league’s standings.
The Canadiens have a favourable schedule ahead of them, with many games to play against their own division, admitedly the weakest in the East. That said, there are still 54 games to be played of an 82-game season. Anything can happen, good or bad. Montreal could stay hot all year and edge their way back to the top of the standings. They could just as easily crumble and complete the season in the basement of the NHL.
3. Lord Byron giveth
Paul Byron scored his first ever NHL hat trick on Saturday night, bringing his season total up to nine goals. The speedy winger had his most successful offensive production last year, scoring 22 times and adding 21 assists, playing all but one game for the Habs. Should his current scoring pace continue through the rest of the season, Byron would score 27 this year.
He came to the Habs as a waiver wire pickup; one of the best waiver claims in the NHL and certainly the best ever in Montreal. With a cap hit of just a shade over $1 million, Byron is pulling far more than his weight for the Canadiens, and it’s fun to see such a hard-working team player hit his prime and play better than he ever has. At 28 years of age, the Ottawa native is still improving, which bodes well for the Habs.
He gets moved around the lineup a lot and plays well whether he’s on the first or fourth line. He’s reliable and versatile.
4. Offence from everywhere
Nicolas Deslauriers had a fantastic showing against the Red Wings, scoring his first NHL goal since March 2016. The goal was a one-timer that showed he knew where to be on the ice. The winger was wide open in the slot and pumped a shot past Petr Mrazek.
He added two assists, a beauty to Jacob de la Rose on a two-on-one and another to Jordie Benn. For a player who’s spent more time in the AHL than the NHL of late, Deslauriers looked confident and not at all out of place with the Habs.
De la Rose’s goal was his first of the season. Playing alongside Byron and Alex Galchenyuk at even strength, de la Rose also picked up a three-point night, assisting on two of Byron’s goals.
Daniel Carr played in just his second game for the Habs this year and already has his first goal of the 2017-18 campaign and four points. Carr had been leading the Laval Rocket in goals scored (12) and has already sent a sign he can score in the NHL too.
Byron Froese had two assists on Saturday, while Charles Hudon now has goals in back-to-back games, while also picking up an assist.
Victor Mete had an assist and showed some flashes again. He has a gift for being able to pinch into the offensive zone to support the play along the boards, much the way Andrei Markov did, and that helped keep the play alive which eventually turned into Deslauriers’ goal.
Galchenyuk posted four assists against the Red Wings.
Sure it was a one game free-for-all, goals-for-everyone party against Detroit, but of the goals scored against the Red Wings, those scored by the Habs’ young players and depth forwards were those of the nicer variety, requiring skill to complete.
5. Montreal can win games while missing key players
Jonathan Drouin missed his second straight game with an injury on Saturday, which saw the return of Shea Weber after missing six games of action. That’s a first-line centre and a top-pairing, All-Star-caliber defenceman missing while the Canadiens have quietly righted their ship and started a winning streak.
After Carey Price got hurt in Minnesota, the team kept losing, despite Al Montoya and Charlie Lindgren performing relatively well as Montreal still outplayed their opponents. Their fortunes eventually changed, and there’s no denying that the turnaround coincided with Price’s return from injury.
The jury is still out on whether the Canadiens can keep it up without their world class netminder, but with the team playing as well as it is right now, there’s evidence to suggest they can cope over a short period of time.
This is a team that has a different construction than last year, and there is a gelling process to be had. A touch more than a quarter of the way through the season, with a few tweaks to the alignment of available personnel, it finally seems there’s some positive shining through for the Habs.