Last season after the Montreal Canadiens got off to a ridiculous start to the season, my own curiousity had me looking up how much of their record was due to solid performance and how much was due to getting lucky.
Plotting their on-ice shooting and save percentages as a team on a graph that included every other team from the 2007-08 season to the 2015-16 season, it was quite clear that the run they were on wasn’t sustainable, just take a look.
Predictably, the Canadiens ran into a real rough patch about a month later, and didn’t really recover until Michel Therrien was let go and Claude Julien was brought in to right the ship.
The lesson here is that the beginning of the season often produces weird results that won’t last the entire year. The Canadiens were a good team last season, their level of performance was consistently that of a top-10 club, but the results they produced were wildly inconsistent. In the end they won their division, but didn’t do much damage in the playoffs.
That brings us to this season, where the opposite is happening as the Canadiens have opened the year with just four goals in four games, earning a shootout win and three regulation losses.
There are always some small things going wrong when teams aren’t scoring like the numbers say they should, but those small details never last very long unless a team is totally bereft of talent or ravaged by injuries. But just for illustration, what would the Canadiens’ current on-ice percentages look like compared to the last decade of hockey?
You thought last year’s start broke the graph? Now you see what the combination of small sample size and absurd bad luck are able to create.
Here’s the thing about the Habs’ start to the season and the panic surrounding their inability to score: they could be impossibly bad, the worst team assembled in the past 10 years of NHL hockey, and they wouldn’t be nearly as bad as the percentages are making them look so far.
We could debate about shot quality or pre-shot movement until the cows come home, but the facts of the matter are that the Canadiens rank between eighth and 16th in the league in scoring chances, scoring chances on net, high danger chances, passes to the slot, and passes off the rush. They combine that with the fourth-best score-adjusted Corsi in the league so far at 57.31 per cent, making them a team that’s unlikely to continue this trend for long.
Are the Canadiens poised to be an offensive juggernaut? No, but we all knew that coming into the season. They’re going to have some trouble attacking off the rush with the middling group of puck movers they’ve assembled, and they do lack some finishing ability up front.
However, they are at least an average offensive team, similar to what they were last season, when they finished 15th in the NHL in goals for despite the narrative that they couldn’t score.
Will the Canadiens have trouble creating offence when the game gets tighter in the playoffs? Probably, because as it stands they only have one elite-level goal scorer in Max Pacioretty, and their second-best goal scorer, Alex Galchenyuk, is a player they don’t seem to trust.
At times this Canadiens team will struggle to produce because they don’t have the horses some other teams do up front, but they do have the depth to compensate for it a little bit, and the process behind the results is solid.