Even those (perhaps especially those) who closely follow the Montreal Canadiens have been stunned by their rise to the NHL’s premier position. Last season’s pulseless offense and comatose powerplay pushed the burden of winning onto Carey Price, who delivered miracles till he inevitably couldn’t. So far this season, the holy hands have belonged to the shooters, making Price’s excellence a nice bonus, rather than the team’s sole salvation.
What’s most impressive about the Canadiens 12-2-1 record is the way they’ve been winning. Only one of those 12 wins has been by a single goal, and seven have been by three or more. Not a single victory came by way of overtime or shootout. Teams that go on lucky runs usually rely on perfect bounces and narrow victories: the Canadiens are no such team. Their score-adjusted Corsi for percentage (percentage of total shot attempts for versus against), the gold standard for statistically predicting future wins, is 52.4 percent, good enough for fourth place in the league.
The Habs are for real.
If you’re a Habs fan and you’d rather just hear the good news, stop reading, log off, and enjoy your day. It’s the first time in a long time it’s been so easy to feel confident in this team. Soak it up. Bask. Revel.
For the non-fans and loyal masochists (there are many), I invite you to consider this chart, courtesy of Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTSS):
The Canadiens are firmly on the “Good” side of the league (horizontal axis), but notice how high their goal differential is (on the vertical axis). That kind of separation from the rest of the pack is rare, and it’s unlikely enough that calling it “lucky” is not out of line. Looking deeper, corroborating evidence abounds.
PDO is a team’s shooting percentage added to its save percentage. The league average tends toward 100, and most teams end up within a point of that value over the course of a season. Last year, the Canadiens finished with a PDO of 101.7, which was the second highest value in the league. Much of this was due to Price’s excellent save percentage, of course, which we might expect to raise the team’s PDO this season as well.
Price, and more surprisingly backup goalie Mike Condon, are currently running an even higher save percentage than the club did least season, by a full 1.2 percentage points. This, however, does not account for most of the Canadiens league-leading, leviathan PDO score of 105.8. The Canadiens are scoring on 12 percent of their shots, which is also the highest value in the league. Compare this to their eleventh-ranked 9.2 percent of last season, where Tampa Bay led the league at 10.7 percent: even the most gifted offensive teams don’t shoot 12 percent over a season, and the Canadiens roster, while improved, does not put the team among the league’s offensive elite.
The volcanic eruption of Montreal’s goalscoring will end. There is nothing in their roster or play to suggest that the Canadiens (or any current team, for that matter) could sustain numbers like this over a complete season. They should continue to improve on last season’s results, but are not likely to keep running roughshod over the league.
Montreal’s improved Corsi is reflected in its improved shots-on-goal per sixty minutes. The team sits in ninth place with 30.5 per game, compared to last season’s 25th-ranked 28 per game. Their scoring chances for (defined here) per 60 minutes of 26 puts them at 20th place in the league, up from last season’s 27th-ranked 24.6. Even their high-danger scoring chances for have improved to 15th best in the league from last year’s 25th.
All of this is positive, of course, and confirms what the eyes are making clear: the Habs are significantly offensively improved. However, these offensive numbers don’t put them near the highest tier of the league. Without the support of any significant underlying metric, it’s tough to make any case for the Habs maintaining their early-season goalscoring inferno.
This isn’t to say it’s not possible, of course. I give the Canadiens chance of maintaining their goalscoring domination the same odds as Dale Weise continuing to shoot 22 percent to become a 40-goal scorer.
Don’t bet on it.
All statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com