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Lady Luck is a cruel mistress, and she's abandoned the Montreal Canadiens

One of the most difficult concepts to explain to hockey fans is the nature of luck, and how sometimes the result of a hockey game is outside a team's control.

Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography

Two games into a series against the New York Rangers, even without the injury to Carey Price, the Canadiens have been remarkably unlucky. When you say that, often people don't really understand it. In sports you make your own luck, right? Well, to an extent.

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Luck in the NHL is very difficult to track, the puck bounces unreliably. In the NHL's current climate of parity though, there is a way to create a proxy for puck luck, called PDO. PDO is a rather simple statistic that adds a team's total shooting percentage with total save percentage. The statistic takes advantage of the league average PDO being a total of 100%, or just 1.00 if you want to eliminate using symbols.

There is variation in team talent, but over the course of a full season, most teams stick within the 0.97 - 1.03 range. Teams that are far beyond the norm are bound to pull back towards that norm over time.

However that's over a full season, and over a very short period, PDO varies wildly. Not only does it vary wildly, but it isn't reflective at all of the actual performance of a team.

Most often PDO is measured at even strength only, but just for the purposes of illustration, I graphed the Montreal Canadiens' unblocked shot attempt differential this season (including playoffs) against their PDO, both in rolling 10 game averages.


Over the course of a season, you can see that both the Canadiens' performance and their execution were all over the place, and they were really related. The trouble with PDO, though, is that it's something no team can control, outside of having a bunch of really great players.

The Canadiens ended the season with poor performance and amazingly good luck, leading to a great winning streak, then dug themselves out of that possession hole with a fantastic four-game sweep of the Lightning, followed by a thrilling seven-game series win over the Boston Bruins.

Through those two series, Montreal had some great luck, but for the most part they stayed within the realm of sustainability on the positive side. They didn't completely luck out, their performance was still solid. But as the conference finals began, Lady Luck has abandoned the Canadiens in a big way, dropping from 1.036 to 0.999 in just two games.

To put that drop in context, the Canadiens went from scoring on 10.2% of their shots against the Boston Bruins, to 4.8% of their shots against the New York Rangers. They went from getting saves on 93.2% of their opponent's shots against Boston, to 82.8% against New York.

The problem for the Canadiens going forward is that percentage-driven success, while usually not enough in a whole regular season, can lead to winning in the playoffs. The other problem is Henrik Lundqvist is extremely unlikely to fall apart and give the Canadiens a huge run on goals, no matter how well the Canadiens play, and Dustin Tokarski is unlikely to match him.

Outplaying the Rangers, which the Canadiens have done so far through two games with a possession rate of nearly 56%, should win them a couple of games, even with the disadvantage in goal, but it won't win them a series. The trouble comes from the fact that the Rangers are unlikely to be outplayed that severely the rest of the way. The series is shifting to New York for three of the next four games, which gives them plenty of chances to put the series away.

Hockey isn't fair for fans. If it were, the San Jose Sharks would still be playing. The only way to look at the rest of the playoffs as a fan of the Canadiens is to enjoy the experience. Everything is stacked against them right now, this is real adversity, and they haven't thrown in the towel. Enjoy the ride, wherever it goes.