What We Learned: Why you should stop freaking out about the Canadiens

It’s been a frustrating start to the season for Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Montreal is a tough market even when times are good. And for the Canadiens right now, times are quite the opposite of good.

They have one win in six games and even that was in a shootout, so their opponents have taken 15 of a possible 16 points against them. This was a team many considered to be one of the best in the East, and instead they’re dead last in the conference, by a decent margin.

On the surface, the problem is easy to diagnose: They’re shooting 4 percent and getting .877 goaltending. That’ll lose you a lot of games. Pretty simple, right?

Because like any Claude Julien team, they’re very good at taking more shots than their opponents, and things just aren’t going well for them in terms of the outcomes of those shots. But if you watch a Canadiens game, you see that they’re doing things a little like the Kings used to: They’re just taking a lot of attempts, and they aren’t particularly picky about where those shots come from.

Some people — usually, the chronically wrong kind — call this “gaming corsi” and say coaches do it to make their underlying numbers look better than they actually are. That, in turn, gives them plausible deniability if the team sucks, which, hey, the Canadiens sure seem to right now. At 5-on-5, the Habs take the third-most attempts per 60 of any team in the league, but are only eighth in expected goals, meaning that the quality of those shots isn’t quite consistent with the rate at which they happen. Both numbers are elite, however.

Meanwhile, the revamped Habs defense is submediocre, conceding the 19th-most shots per hour and giving up some high-quality looks, to the tune of the sixth-worst xGA/60 in the league.

Certainly these are issues to work on, but they don’t lead to anything resembling the results the Canadiens have gotten to this point. In terms of expected-goal plus-minus, they’re minus-0.03 at 5-on-5 and minus-1.4 overall. That means they “should have” given up about a goal and a half more than they’ve scored, which should put them at roughly .500 for the season, instead of being off to the second-worst start in the league and already being minus-21 in goals. That is to say, they’ve allowed about 19 more goals than they should have. Which is a lot.

I’m not going to sit here and try to relitigate for the millionth time whether a particular team is going to have a PDO that starts with “91” or even “95” all season. They are self-evidently much better than this. You can think what you want about the long-term prospects for Carey Price’s brand new contract, but you don’t typically see a guy’s talents diminish to the point that you lose 50 points of save percentage in a single summer. Pretty sure that’s not how aging curves work.

Likewise, the Canadiens were likely to struggle a bit more offensively this season than last, simply because of some of the talent they lost, and Jonathan Drouin wasn’t going to paper over everything. But Max Pacioretty, who’s fourth in the league in goals and 21st in points since the start of 2013-14 didn’t suddenly become a guy who can only score one goal and no assists in eight games.

It is worth asking if, given how things went for the Bruins last season, a Claude Julien system ends up being a lot like a Darryl Sutter system in the modern NHL, where you control a big chunk of the possession but have a lot more trouble converting than the average team. Much like everything went wrong offensively for the Kings and Bruins for much of last season, maybe this is symptomatic. But as was the argument with Sutter before he got canned, all you can do is put your team in a position to succeed as much as possible.

You cannot understate the role Marc Bergevin has played in making the Canadiens worse over the last few years, and anyway, it’s not like Julien is coaching for his job. He just signed a five-year deal, so he’s doing what any coach should do: Putting his team in the best position to win. Whether guys have the talent and luck to execute is another story entirely.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that these are the worst games of Price’s career since an 11-game stretch in the lockout-shortened season, when he went .865 over nine games right before the playoffs started. The next season he went .927 and the one after that he was the MVP. The point is, yeah, Price is in a slump right now and no one can score, but how long can you reasonably expect either of those conditions to last? You have Price, who, granted, is 30 at this point, playing his worst hockey in almost five years sandwiching the best 200 or so games any goalie has had in modern hockey (.928 from 2013-14 to 2016-17).

That’s the issue about that expected-goals number, too. Price isn’t a league-average goalie or really anything close, so he should consistently outperform his team’s xGA number. So why are we assuming this is going to last, unless we’re actively choosing to be disingenuous.

You can maybe think the Canadiens were overhyped going into the season and you can think they’re gonna struggle to score all year. But if you think this is one of the two worst teams in the league, and think using only The Eye Test from less than 10 percent of the season to make these determinations, you’re kidding yourself.

That thing about Montreal being a tough market? A stretch like this would make it a nightmare to deal with the media and fans in January. But the fact that it’s happening now, in the first eight games to start off the year, is cranking things to their current absurd, unrealistic level. It would be overblown then, just as it’s overblown now.

This is still realistically a playoff team, especially in a division with this many weak clubs, and a comfortable one at that (and by the by, anyone who thought the Bruins were right to fire Julien might want to check out their performance so far this year). They’re probably not going to clear 100 points like many expected, but by the end of the season, I hate to tell you, their PDO is gonna be back in the 98, 99 range and gee whiz they’ll probably still have like 97 points.

People are literally only freaking out about this because it’s Oct. 23 and they have just three points. Understandable to an extent, but people also forget that they also have 74 games left on the schedule.

That, actually, is a lot of time to make up their current six point deficit against the … Red Wings? Man, I guess it really is early.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler get well soon we miss you!

Arizona Coyotes: The Canadiens being bad is stealing from us the joy of marveling over how the Coyotes are much, much worse.

Boston Bruins: This might be the most humiliating thing that ever happened to the Bruins. And I’ve seen the Behind the B episode about trading Seguin.

Buffalo Sabres: I bet Eichel is feeling great about that extension now.

Calgary Flames: Don’t take Jagr. Take me instead!

Carolina Hurricanes: Despite this most recent loss, the ‘Canes look pretty good so far!

Chicago Blackhawks: I, too, love to trade a veteran defenseman for an expensive project and then healthy-scratch him repeatedly.

Colorado Avalanche: When it rains it pours for like five years in a row.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Fun one against the Kings, but Bobrovsky has to be better than this.

Dallas Stars: Weird how a good coach makes a team with a lot of talent good.

Detroit Red Wings: I love the implications HYPERLINK “http://www.freep.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/10/22/riley-sheahan-pittsburgh-penguins-detroit-red-wings/788588001/”behind this headline.

Edmonton Oilers: Man, when you can’t even win with Connor McDavid…

Florida Panthers: James Reimer, pretty good goalie. Wonder when people start to act like that’s been the case for some time now.

Los Angeles Kings: All those goals Anze Kopitar didn’t score last year? He’s scoring them now.

Minnesota Wild: Nice little third period for the Wild. But they still only have six points.

Montreal Canadiens: I actually heard it’s really important for them to panic now, a week before Halloween.

Nashville Predators: “Is that a lot?”

New Jersey Devils: Well, that’s wonderful news.

New York Islanders: Hey, if a guy worth nine figures rides the train with you as a publicity stunt, it’s actually fine that he is not a good owner.

New York Rangers: Man, this is a capital-T Take.

Ottawa Senators: Let’s not go nuts.

Philadelphia Flyers: Oh my god: “While we’ve appropriately focused on the Flyers team speed in their own spirited start to the season, it’s a little sobering to see them outhit, at home, over the last three games.” Guess which team won this game.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Due to the Penguins’ necessity, people are going to act like Riley Sheahan is a No. 3 center. He absolutely is not.

San Jose Sharks: Okay but who fills the Hertl void?

St. Louis Blues: This is one of those things that sounds good but isn’t that good.

Tampa Bay Lightning: What if, even though they missed the playoffs last year, the Lightning are good?

Toronto Maple Leafs: One thing I think we’re overlooking with the Sens these days is that Erik Karlsson has six points in three games on an ankle that’s partly missing.

Vancouver Canucks: Sorry but there’s no good choice.

Vegas Golden Knights: Oh, maybe this is why you get more than two goalies.

Washington Capitals: (A million thinking guy emoji.) (The plural of emoji is emoji and this is a hill I am 100000 percent willing to die on.)

Winnipeg Jets: My big son.

Play of the weekend

Ryan O’Reilly makes like four low-key incredible plays in this sequence. C’mon dawg!

Gold Star Award

Erik Karlsson made what was no joke a 100-foot indirect pass on this Derick Brassard goal and it’s honestly the best secondary assist I have ever seen in my entire dumb life.

Minus of the Weekend

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce, Kris Russell is at it again.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “russ4king” has his head on straight.

Who says no? Draisaitl for ROR straight up?

Signoff

If this is anyone other than Steve Allen you’re stealing my bit.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)