The Canadiens’ hot start is reason for cautious optimism

Another year, another great start. Seem familiar?

With the month of October in the books, the Montreal Canadiens once again sit atop of the NHL standings.

After nine games we’re working with a limited sample size, which means that every game can cause a major swing in the numbers. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the statistics tell us about the Habs’ hot start, starting with their shots and shot attempts.

All numbers are 5 vs 5, score and venue adjusted. They’re courtesy of the excellent website Corsica. This will be an ongoing series on EOTP that will be published at the end of every month.

The Canadiens are putting a lot of rubber towards the net. They’re fifth in the NHL when it comes to generating shot attempts. On the flip side of the coin, the Canadiens are allowing a lot of shots as well. Fortunately, they’re creating more shots than they’re allowing, which places them just outside of the top 10 when it comes to Corsi For and Shots For.

Ideally you would want the Canadiens to do a little better when it comes to shot suppression, but if they keep controlling over 51% of the shots they should be fine.  So far so good.

When we check Montreal’s goal and scoring chance production, things get interesting. The Canadiens are 4th in goals per 60, which lines up with their shot attempts. What sticks out like a sore thumb is their goals against, which is first in the league.

That’s right. The Canadiens are 22nd in shot attempts against, 23rd in shots against, 19th in scoring chances against, yet first in goals against.

The offensive production lines up with the shot generation, although they’ve been a bit lucky when it comes to capitalizing on chances. The defensive numbers on the other hand, are simply unsustainable. And there’s a fairly obvious reason why.

Their shooting percentage again lines up with the Canadiens being a top 10 offensive team throughout the first month of NHL action.

However, they’re only getting scored on four times for every 100 shots they allow.  Obviously having a player of Carey Price’s calibre will mean the Canadiens should sit near the top of the NHL when it comes to save percentage, but right now the team is bordering perfection between the pipes, which explains the inflated PDO. Expect those numbers to regress as the season moves forward.

How does that compare with their hot start last year?

The Habs are controlling fewer of the shots this season, as well as controlling fewer of the scoring chances. Interestingly, they’re creating more scoring chances this year, but aren’t scoring as much as they did in October 2015-16.

Both teams had a similar start in terms of shooting percentage and both enjoyed fantastic performances from their goaltenders.

The Lowdown

You may look at the comparison with last year’s team and assume the Canadiens are doomed to regress, which is true to a certain extent, but we have to remember that the 2015-16 edition of this team was hit with the perfect storm. After a great start their shooting percentage fell flat, their goaltenders struggled, and injuries to key players started to accumulate. That’s not to say the 2016-17 Canadiens are immune to these factors, but the odds of all three of them hitting the team at once are reasonably low.

The team save percentage will undoubtedly lower to a more sustainable level, and the shooting percentage may fluctuate as the season progresses, but as it stands, statistically the Canadiens aren’t due for a major collapse. If anything, they’re due for a few bad games, which is impossible to avoid over the course of 82 games.

Fans are well within their rights to be optimistic about this year’s start, although cautious optimism may be the best route seeing as there’s still 90% of the schedule left to play.

The key will be how the Habs react once they hit the inevitable rough patch. When it happens, having a healthy Carey Price will do wonders to boost morale. The difference between having a goalie that can steal games and a goalie that struggles with basic saves is night and day when it comes to mitigating the damage from a losing streak.

Yes, the Canadiens are accumulating points at an unsustainable rate, but as long as they avoid the perfect storm of bad luck, the epic collapse of 2015-16 should be well behind them. It’s just not time to start planning the parade...yet. The Habs could stand to improve their control of the scoring chances, as well as shore up their defensive play.

I’d like to point out that Olivier Bouchard, a friend of the site and an excellent analyst, wrote something similar for, which came to my attention as I finalized my text. As per usual, it was an excellent piece. If you wish to read his article you can do so here (French).

(CF60 = Corsi For per 60, CA60 = Corsi against per 60, CF% = Corsi for percentage, SF60 = shots for per 60, SA60 = Shots against per 60, SF% = Shots for percentage, GF60 = goals for per 60, GA60 = goals against per 60, GF% = goals for percentage, SCF60 = scoring chances for per 60, SCA60 = scoring chances against per 60, SCF% = scoring chance percentage, SH% = shooting percentage, SV% = save percentage, PDO = sum of team's SH% and SV%. All numbers 5 vs. 5 only, via Corsica.)

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