Since the beginning of time, we’ve been told that preseason games don’t matter. We’ve also been told that the first 10 regular season games don’t really matter, as the team is busy finding its identity. If the young 2011-12 season has taught us anything, and if the good pupils of Habs Nation have been paying attention, it’s that nothing can be further from the truth.
In his latest “30 Thoughts” column, CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reveals some research undertaken by an unnamed NHL GM, that I believe has gone woefully under reported, especially in Montreal where most fans would rather ignore facts, reality and history. The result of that research is shocking, and should jolt us all from our misplaced belief that the early season can be treated as nothing more than a long warm-up session.
Picking November 1st as a cutoff date, here are some of the takeaways of the GM’s research:
- 20 teams during the 6 seasons since the lockout ended who were not in the top 8 (i.e. playoff position) on November 1st recovered to make the playoffs – an average of 3.5 teams per season.
- Of those 20 teams who made it, only 2 of them were more than four points out of a playoff spot (Sabres in 2011, Flames in 2007), yet recovered to play past 82 games.
- In the era of 3 point games, if the Habs, or any other team are 4 or more points out of a playoff spot on November 1st, the chances of recovering to make the playoffs is a mere 7%. Do you want to roll the dice with chances like that?
What this all means is that the Habs have the next 5 games to get the lead out and put themselves within striking distance. Still ready to say that the preseason and early season doesn’t matter? Enter the excuses:
Injuries! ARGH!! No Markov, no Spacek, no Campoli, no Cammalleri! Hogwash, all of it. As our good friend Rick at All Habs points out, Markov was not expected back, we don’t know how Campoli would have fit in (and let’s not forget that he was sitting on the scrap heap until late September, meaning nobody else had a use for him either), we couldn’t wait to run Spacek out of town at the end of last year, and Cammalleri’s return is imminent. Besides, while it perhaps was never Plan A to have so many young defensemen in the starting lineup, they have all played quite well; certainly as well as Spacek, and perhaps even better than Campoli would have. No, defense has not been the problem. It’s simply a convenient excuse for those looking to give out free passes. You may also tell me that Ryan White is missing, and I’ll concede that much. He is missed. But with all due respect to White, he is not the difference between contender and also ran. This is not to say that injuries have no impact on a team’s performance. They do, but that excuse only holds so much water. It’s up to the coaches and management to mitigate those losses and get more out of less. It’s also up to highly paid veterans to do what they’re paid to do, namely to produce points, not just “look” threatening. We see it all the time, and we’ve seen it from tonight’s opponent in Pittsburgh. The Habs have learned to live without Andrei Markov, the highest profile of all losses. They’ve had some success without him. They are no longer lost without him, and considering how long he’s been out of the lineup, it would be folly to think that the Canadiens haven’t adapted somewhat.
What’s a team to do when Ryan Miller stands on his head? The Habs were robbed! Yes, they were. Ryan Miller put on quite the show the other night, and we’ve seen our own star goalie steal many points from the opposition, especially last season. But in an Eastern Conference stacked with all star goaltending: Lundqvist, Fleury, Bryzgalov, Miller, Thomas, Vokoun, Ward, Brodeur, you can bet that the Habs will probably be robbed more than once this season. Are you prepared to roll over and accept that? In the end, it’s just another excuse. Price may pull of just as many heists to offset, but good teams find a way to win. Good teams have a killer instinct. Good teams don’t offer up simplistic excuses. They get it done.
Tonight’s matchup vs the Penguins is an interesting one. As we all know by now, the Penguins are missing Crosby, Letang, Orpik, Kennedy and Malkin is a question mark. So far the Penguins have blasted out of the gates with a 4-2-2 record while playing 8 games in 12 nights. Tonight’s game will make it 9 games in 14 nights. What a brutal schedule to start the season. Yet the Penguins don’t make excuses. So far, they just win. Can the Habs take advantage of an undermanned, tired team? Or will there be more convenient excuses tomorrow morning?