Before I get started, I want to get something out of the way. I have been hard on Antti Niemi the past few games, but he was very good against Dallas and was a big part of the win. I said he had to be better, and on Monday, he absolutely was.
Now, on to regularly scheduled programming.
December is usually a month the Montreal Canadiens stumble in. Whenever they get off to a hot start in October, people always look at the calendar, and sigh... ‘yeah, but wait until the eventual December slump.’
But December isn’t always a bad month for the Canadiens, at least under Marc Bergevin. Or, more accurately, December is a bad month when the season goes bad, but when the team does well, they seem immune to the December slump. So, a good December means a good season, and the good news is, December 2018 was very good.
The Canadiens have been over .500 (in point percentage, not pure win/loss percentage which means their 6-4-4 record in 2016-17 is over .500 for the purposes of this) in four out of the six years Marc Bergevin has been general manager of this team, for all intents and purposes this is the ‘modern era’ of this franchise.
In the three years they succeeded in December, they made the playoffs in all three years. In those years, they also had successful Holiday road trips as well, busting another narrative. For the purposes of this, ‘Holiday road trip’ includes any road trip that starts mid-December and ends in January. All records for the road trips include January games which means it is separate from the December records which include all December games.
Canadiens December history
The only month that was iffy was the aforementioned 2016-17 season. The Canadiens fired Michel Therrien in February of that year, but did end up making the playoffs. That Holiday trip went 4-1-2, but featured five straight overtime games meaning that it was as close as you can get to a trip that could have gone either way.
So, with last night’s win in Dallas, the Canadiens secured a month and road trip that puts it among the best the team has had in recent history. The team set a mark for most wins and points for the month of December in the Bergevin Era, and is tied with 2014-15 for the best points percentage.
And the latter part of the trip was done without Carey Price, which makes it even more impressive (especially when compared to the infamous 2015-16 season when Price was also injured).
I’m not willing to guarantee that the Canadiens will make the playoffs based on this trip, but they are in the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and they have closed the gap to the automatic playoff berth the Buffalo Sabres are currently holding.
And, if how the Canadiens play in December is an indicator of how their season will go - which it has been in the previous five seasons - then the 2019 part of the season should be as fun as the first four months.
December is only one hurdle in a season with many of them, but it was another one they cleared so far.