From the drop of the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 7 until the end of November, no team in the NHL was as dominant as the Montreal Canadiens.
Since that time, however, no team has been worse. In fact, just about every team in the league has earned twice as many points than the Canadiens since Dec. 2. (The Buffalo Sabres are the only team that hasn’t.)
Montreal outscored its opponents 89-56 before Dec. 2, and have been outscored 38-65 since. What’s weird, though, is that since the start of their decline, the Canadiens actually have a better scoring chance differential than they did before. Prior to Dec. 2, the Habs out-chanced their opposition 485-467 in all situations, controlling 51.5 per cent of scoring chances. After Dec. 2, they have out-chanced their opponents 393-346 — or 53.2 per cent of scoring chances.
The logical next step would be to look at the quality of chances the team is getting, which we can do using Sportlogiq data:
On the left is the Canadiens’ shot locations pre-Dec. 2, and on the right is their shot locations after. We can see that the percentage of shots taken from the slot drops from 31.5 per cent to 30.4 per cent, but is that significant? Using NHL average conversion rates from each zone, we can calculate the Canadiens’ expected shooting percentage during both time periods.
As it turns out, the difference isn’t very large. Based on where the Canadiens have shot from, they were expected to score on 7.83 per cent of their shots on goal before Dec. 2, and 7.67 per cent since.
Here’s the crazy thing though: because the Canadiens have shot at a higher rate since Dec. 2, their expected goals per game actually rises from 2.42 per game to 2.53.
Obviously this is the opposite of what has taken place, and there are likely reasons for that which aren’t properly quantified using modern hockey analytics like pre-shot movement and simple random variation. Sometimes the puck just bounces the way you want it to, and sometimes the opposite happens.
What we do know from all of this, though, is that the Canadiens shoot from the perimeter far too often. Their expected shooting percentage of 7.75 per cent in all situations would rank them 25th in the NHL — that’s actually below their current 8.53 per cent conversion rate on the season, meaning there still may be further for this team to fall in terms of goal scoring. That’s a terrifying realization for fans that just watched their team win four of their last 21 games, and whose general manager and coaching staff preach nothing but status quo.
To be clear, this isn’t a team talent issue — it is a systemic one that has persisted for the Canadiens for a couple of seasons now. If they want to regain the contender status they enjoyed at the beginning of the seasons, they’ll have to find a way to shake things up offensively.