We've been talking about it for a long, long time now. As the Montreal Montreal Canadiens keep piling up wins, then losing to Edmonton, Buffalo, and Arizona, and getting outshot by essentially everyone, you have to wonder what this team really is.
There are a lot of people out there who believe that everything is going well, and for casual fans who pay attention to the win column only, it's hard to disagree, but part of the mission statement of Eyes on the Prize is to look beyond the surface, and with the Canadiens, what's under there hasn't been pretty in a very long time.
Michel Therrien's tenure didn't start out poorly, in fact we were really positive about his first year behind the bench, even after a disappointing playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. What's happened since then, though, has been a continual downslide in terms of team tactics, with Therrien reverting to old habits, and the team winning almost in spite of themselves; mainly due to Carey Price.
We've gone over where the team doesn't look up to snuff, but even when I try to simplify it, I think a lot of the time, I'm preaching to the choir when it comes to what the Habs need to do better. So let's make it really easy for everyone, very clear. Let's ignore percentages, and fractions, and any real math, and just look at how the Habs rank against the rest of the league, in a bunch of very important categories.
It's a lot of different statistics in three different situations, but we can actually distill it even further. By looking at only offense-related statistics, we can add them all up and create an average ranking for where the Habs' rank against the rest of the NHL in terms of offensive production. What's the result? 18th. That's outside of the playoffs, and not encouraging at all.
But these Habs haven't been an offensive juggernaut, we already knew that, so let's do the same thing with defense-related statistics, add them up, and see where they rank in comparison to the rest of the NHL. What's the result? 19th. That's right, even with Carey Price holding teams to the fewest total goals against per minute in the entire league, the Canadiens are so awful defensively that they rank 19th out of 30 teams.
Yet, the Habs rank first in save percentage, and have a league-average-or-so shooting percentage, which results in the highest PDO in the entire league. Essentially, the reason why the Canadiens are first overall in the Eastern Conference is that Carey Price has been otherworldly good, and Montreal is 20-6-4 in one-goal games this year.
Typically, elite, cup-contending teams win games by more than one goal, however even elite teams split one-goal games almost right down the middle. With the amount of random variance involved in a game like hockey, you usually can't control the outcome very well in one-goal games. Yet this season's Habs have a 73.3% winning percentage in those games, which just isn't sustainable long term.
The fact is, the Canadiens' success, while fun, does not bode well for future success. Eventually those bounces go against you.
Be zen about it
It's difficult to comprehend how the Canadiens are able to play so poorly with the roster they have. The Habs have the best goaltender in the world, and quite possibly the best defenseman in the world too in P.K. Subban. They have one of the five best goal-scorers in the NHL in Max Pacioretty, and likely one of the top five players 21 and under in Alex Galchenyuk. There's all sorts of reasons to be excited about this team.
They also have a general manager that appears to be more on the ball every day, constantly winning trades and moving out problem contracts. It's highly unlikely that Marc Bergevin is unaware of how the Canadiens have played over the last two seasons. It's highly unlikely that the Canadiens aren't constantly preparing for a collapse in percentages, and what that means going forward.
Whether that means forcing Therrien to adjust to a modern system, or finding a new coach to implement one, it's not going to happen until the wins stop flowing. This team likely believes they were robbed of a trip to the Stanley Cup finals when Price was injured last year, all it takes is a wake up call to for them to change things up.
There's really no way it can go wrong here. Either the Canadiens go on the luckiest streak in decades and win the Stanley Cup, and at that point, who cares how they did it? Or they flame out and fans deal with short term pain for long term gain. This team is in a great position going forward.