As painful as it might be, think back to the Habs under the previous regime. Think of the team that was coached to play the trap when behind by two goals late in a game. Think of the constant circus surrounding the team. Think of the blown leads. Think of the negativity that the organization brought down on itself by hiring people who belonged in Montreal about as much as milk belongs in a Porsche’s fuel tank. The Canadiens were a laughing stock on and off the ice. Worse, they were not likeable save for a few players with irrepressible personality, respect and leadership qualities.
When the final siren mercifully blared, and the house was finally cleaned out, the search for the next leaders of the team was in full swing. In place of a flaccid management and coaching group, the Habs hired a rookie GM who looks good in a suit, and a coach who had been here before with less-than-stellar results. With no option other than to let things play out, Habs fans sat and waited with trepidation and guarded optimism.
The wait has been more than worth it, as the Habs almost immediately began to systematically erase their ill-gotten yet well-deserved reputation.
Here are a few select stats to show just how far the Habs have come in so a short time:
- Through 26 games last year, the Habs managed 3 or more goals in a game just 13 times, going 7-3-3 in those games. Not too shabby as far as records go. This year? They’ve done it in 19 of 26 games, going 16-2-1 when doing so.
- You may recall the phenomenon known as the Habs Threshold of Doom, where they were essentially guaranteed to lose once the opponent scored its third goal? Through 26 games last year the Habs had coughed up 3 or more goals 14 times, and won only one of those games (1-8-5). So far this season, the Habs have given up 3 or more goals 10 times, yet have managed a winning record; going 5-3-2 in those games. In a complete turnaround over last year, the Habs are almost a lock this season when they score three or more, whereas last year, once the opposition notched their third goal, it was safe to go to bed.
- Through 26 games this year, the Habs have scored 8 more even strength goals than last year’s team over the same amount of games. That may not sound like much, but over the course of 82 games that translates to 25 more even strength goals. It’s a much bigger difference than the incorrect belief that the 2011-12 Habs would have been saved if they had a powerplay that was merely average.
- While fans and media froth at the mouth over the powerplay’s “ineffectiveness”, the Canadiens are improving in the key, but somehow overlooked area of even strength scoring. Last year through 26 games, the Canadiens were averaging a meagre 1.88 even strength goals per game. That put unrealistic pressure on a comatose powerplay in a year where powerplay opportunities were as rare as buried treasure. Averaging just 0.46 goals per game, the powerplay was of no use at all. By contrast, this year’s team is scoring 2.2 even strength goals per game while more than doubling their powerplay output over last season by scoring 0.96 power play goals per game. All told, that’s a net gain of 0.82 goals per game over last year’s team. Surely a healthy roster helps, especially a healthy Markov for the man advantage. Jacques Martin did not have this luxury, but he also did nothing to adapt to the strengths of his players at any point, either.
- If there’s been a down side, it’s that the Canadiens have been a little too reliant on the powerplay. The good news is it’s a problem that they’ve been rectifying rather quickly, with stellar results. In the first quarter of the season the Habs powerplay generated 40% of the team’s total offense. That’s way, way too high. During the second quarter of the season, and including the first two games of the third quarter, the Habs powerplay generated 22.5% of the team’s total offense. That’s much closer to where elite teams live. Incidentally, the Habs have gone 11-1-3 during that stretch. Think about that for a moment: the 2013 Habs have massively cut their reliance on the powerplay in a short time in 2013, while at the same time doubling powerplay output over the deadbeat 2011-12 team. ‘Nuff said!
- Discipline and a system that suits the players has done wonders, too. Through 26 games in 2011-12, the Canadiens were on the penalty kill more than they were on the powerplay (102 powerplays vs 105 penalties against). Not good for a team built to succeed on the powerplay. Through 26 games this year, the Habs are enjoying a major surplus in powerplay opportunities (119 powerplays vs 98 penalty kill situations).
Before the season started, my expectations for this season were low, low, low. Subterranean low. I thought they might hang around long enough to be considered a bubble team, but that was it. They’d be sellers at the deadline and stock up for a deep dive in the 2013 Amateur Draft. Less than two months later, they’ve certainly surpassed my expectations, the expectations of every cynical fan, and likely their own internal expectations. The best part is they’ve done it the right way, and they’ve done it without being overly reliant on any one facet of the game. They have quickly corrected course when they needed to, and have been resilient. Their game is for the most part, sustainable and in some areas, like faceoffs, there is still room for improvement.
Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel