Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Habs Are Better Than You Think

Yes, you read that title correctly. I am about to defend the Montreal Canadiens and tell you why they'll make the playoffs and why they'll be tough to eliminate. I know the hip thing to do is scream from the rooftops that the sky is falling, but if you think about it, you might realize the glass is half full. And no, it's not because I drank half a glass of Kool-Aid.

I'll get the obvious negatives out of the way first. Clearly, the powerplay is not working well. They're producing goals at a measly 11.8% rate with the man advantage, which is good for 28th in the NHL. In fact, if you negate the 5 shorthanded goals they've given up from their powerplay total, it drops to 7.6%. They would then be 29th in the NHL for the nifty PP statistic I just made up. The word abysmal isn't strong enough to describe it. It's abysmally abysmal. On top of that, there's the nasty habit they have of blowing leads, especially after scoring first. They have now lost 11 games (and counting) in which they've held the lead.

So why don't those problems bother me? Because the Habs are so good at playing 1-man down that it's actually making up for the power play. If you combine their 11.8% PP and 89.3% PK you get more than 100%. To me, that's a better indication of where their special teams are at. Teams don't just live and die with the PP, they live and die with special teams. Not to mention, after years of struggling 5-on-5, they are actually a plus team at even strength. Want to know something else? They're also averaging more shots/game than their opponents. Looking at their team stats, the only conclusion you can draw is that they're a competitive team who simply are not capitalizing on their opportunities.

Speaking of not capitalizing on opportunities, the Habs have blown leads in 11 of their 18 losses. Now, I do not recall any team ever having defeat snatched from the jaws of victory so often, which leads me to believe this is only an aberration. Please, correct me if I'm wrong. I couldn't find a historical statistic. I just simply can't believe that at the end of the season a team would actually have a lead in 60% of their losses. That either means they're gonna quit blowing it or simply lose games outright. And as long as Carey Price is around, they're not going to be losing too many games outright. He's more than keeping the team in every game and played well enough to steal a couple. It might not be at the near-Vezina level it was a year ago, but no one in the league plays more games at a higher level than he does.

Does anyone really think Michael Cammalleri will get worse? Or that P.K. Subban will not find his stride? Sure, Travis Moen's production will trail off, I'll give you that. But players like Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller are only getting better. Heck, Pacioretty just needs to stay the course. And can I get odds on Eller breaking out in the last 40 games, much like Tomas Plekanec (the player he looks up to the most and is often compared to) did in the latter half of his own 2nd NHL season?

Let's not forget the Bell Centre faithful's fiercest fan favourite, Alexei Emelin. It only took him a perfectly reasonable 20 games to get his timing down in the NHL and now he's leaving a trail of broken bodies in his wake. People are also forgetting just how young this defense corp is. Jacques Martin has stressed in press conferences because it's true. He might deploy some mind numbing coaching strategies, but in another year where injuries have hit the team hard, they continue to be tough to play against.

This team could have quit a long time ago. They could have packed it up to get the coach fired. Instead, since the 1-5-2 start, they are actually 11-6-5. That's not a team that has quit on it's coach. Granted, they pull no shows against the cellar dwellers, but since Bob Gainey assembled most of this squad, they especially refuse to go away when you expect them to. Psychologically, the OT losses may be taking a toll, but mathematically those extra points are adding up to keep that 8th seed within arm's reach. As soon as they rip off that inevitable 3 game streak or go 5-for-6, they'll be sitting around 6th place and everyone will be patting each other on the back saying they knew it all along.

If you think this team should tank, go take a look at the rosters of any Canadiens season between 1999 and 2002. Those are teams that should have been scrapped to rebuild long term. This team just has too much to tear down. It's like imploding a skyscraper that's already reached the 50th floor because you want to redesign the bathrooms. The Habs might not be a Stanley Cup favourite, but they have an elite goalie, some quality veterans and a few flashy kids, which is enough to ensure there will be hockey in La Belle Province this spring. As usual.

Better grab a seat while you still can. This bandwagon fills up pretty quick.

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