Can the once league-leading Canadiens even make the playoffs now?
They used to be the team to beat. They started on a nine-game win streak. They won 18 of their first 25 games, and had a commanding grip on both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Then it all changed.
Despite their hot start, the Montreal Canadiens now find themselves on the outside looking in for the Stanley Cup playoff picture. With 55 games down and 27 games left on the schedule, Habs fans are beginning to ask a major question: Are the Canadiens doomed?
The answer to this question is twofold. First, how are the Canadiens performing? Second, how are they in relation to their closest competition as they head down the stretch?
For the season, the Canadiens have been playing solid hockey. They rank fifth (52.4 percent) and sixth (52.8 percent) in Fenwick and Corsi, respectively. They rank seventh with a 2.2 goals for per 60 minutes scoring rate. They’re also fifth in the league with a respectable 84 percent penalty kill. Their 99.2 PDO puts them on a sustainable path, if not one that could slightly improve.
So what’s the problem? Team goaltending. At five-on-five, the Habs are ninth worst in on-ice save percentage, and are underwater with a 49.7 percent scoring chance for percentage. Missing Carey Price will certainly do that——the reigning MVP has been out since Nov. 25 with a lower body injury, and the Habs have dropped precipitously in the standings since then. In December, the team went 3-11-0, and posted a 3-7-1 record in January. Even still, the Canadiens really haven’t been playing that poorly, and they recently picked up three wins in a row.
That being said, they’re tied with the New Jersey Devils for the most games played in the Eastern Conference. This puts them at a slight disadvantage, as the teams ahead of them will get the chance to pick up some extra points.
In their division, they sit in fifth place. They’re four points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning (62 points), and three back of the Boston Bruins (61, and holding the first wild card spot). While not the worst-case, both of those teams have played two fewer games, giving them a significant advantage to hold their lead. It will be very hard to leapfrog both teams and take back an Atlantic Division playoff spot.
The best-case scenario for the Canadiens is to catch a playoff spot. Boston currently holds the top spot with the Pittsburgh Penguins right behind them. These teams have two and three games in hand on the Canadiens, respectively, adding an extra hurdle to climb. When it comes to possession stats, however, the Canadiens have an edge over Boston. Boston is underwater with a 49.4 Corsi for percentage, and is dead even at 50 percent Fenwick for percentage. Pittsburgh, on the contrary, is ninth in the league in both. Boston also owns the 10th worst scoring chance for percentage at 48.7. Of the two current wild card teams, Boston has the worst showing in advanced stats.
They will also need to catch New Jersey, which is three points ahead of Montreal and sitting just on top of them. New Jersey too, however, shows significant sustainability issues. They are dead last in the league with 20.9 scoring chances for per 60 minutes at five-on-five. They are second worst with a 47.3 five-on-five faceoff percentage, and are second and fourth worst in Corsi and Fenwick for percentages. Montreal’s strong possession stats give them the edge over New Jersey despite being three points back.
Unfortunately for Montreal, that’s not their only competition. The Carolina Hurricanes are only a point behind Montreal with a game in hand, and the Ottawa Senators are two points behind Montreal but have also played 55 games. While these teams will have to jump over Montreal, being so close will make it difficult for any of them to jump up to the wild card.
So is Montreal doomed? Doomed isn’t the right word. After all, they’re still playing some decent hockey, and will possibly be getting Carey Price back soon, which will give them a big boost. But, all the close competition and the extra games played will make it very difficult to climb back to playoff position. Montreal’s current three-game win streak is certainly a start. Unless the Canadiens get really hot really quickly, it’s looking more and more like a historic start will all be for naught.
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