After the 2-1 Sunday victory at home against Ottawa, Brian Gionta told a scrum of reporters: “Last year was a fluke. We knew we were better than that”. Fans of the team love to hear talk like that from the captain. The play that we have seen from this year’s version of the team has been remarkably better than last, starting with the Captain and moving practically throughout the entire lineup.
When I read those words in the Gazette this morning I was quick to reflect on the ‘pre-season’ predictions that all of the major sports news organizations love to release at the start of every season. I’ve been outspoken about how dumb I feel these predictions are, and how people tend to make too much of the opinion of pundits. That said, not ALL predictions are useless. But I’ve yet to meet hockey’s equivalent of Nate Silver.
I’m not going to get into another gripe-fest about hockey analysts and their reliance on ‘last-year’ when making predictions. Still, I think that the Montreal Canadiens serve as a perfect example why consensus, punditry, and last year mean little once the puck is actually dropped.
Read what The Hockey News wrote about your Montreal Canadiens before the season:
(13th Place) Why: While Montreal found a wonderful line of Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais last season, the team still doesn’t score enough goals. They added grit in the form of Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong that will beef up an undersized forward corps, but that doesn’t address the need for offense. If Andrei Markov can stay healthy the Habs are a different squad, but the Russian can’t be relied on for a full year anymore. If Carey Price has a Vezina caliber season the Habs will be ripe to exceed expectations, but as everything stands right now, this is still a non-playoff team.
Well, in an admittedly small number of games so far, this “team that can’t score” ranks 10th in the NHL in scoring and 4th in the league in goal differential due to excellent goaltending and team defense. Further, the “wonderful” Two-and-a-half Men line was slow out of the gates, meaning the team has relied on other players for scoring early in this season. Rene Bourque, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Brian Gionta have all contributed early on for Montreal – which no pundit saw happening in advance, because pundits don’t predict the future – they rehash the past.
Its been enjoyable to watch the Canadiens prove in a small sample that last year is over, and that a new year can bring entirely different results. I have still been hearing on the various podcasts, and hockey tv shows that Montreal is “bound” to start falling back to where they were last season. But frankly, with the improved play that we have seen from the bottom 3 lines, as well as the special teams – I don’t see the Habs falling to the basement of the conference this season. There is simply too much talent on this team for them not to be in the mix come playoff time.
Just don’t call that a prediction.