montreal canadiens hockey – habs blog RSS

Predictions, and why this year ain’t last year.

  • 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.

  1. One thing the pundits and the predictors did not consider was that there are 7 new players on this team from last year. Not just players to replace Darche etc but actual quality players that were not part of this team last year.

    First lets consider MARKOV, he did play the last few weeks of the schedule but was no near the player yet that he is this year. We need not have to talk about his contribution to this team.

    Second we added a team leader Gionta, also not part of this team most of last year. Leadership is a major contributor to the success of any team and he is showing that this year along with his offensive abilities.

    Then we added toughness in Armstrong and Prust. Enough cannot be said about the contribution of Prust to our third line and the confidence he has given the two Gally boys.

    Armstrong as provide strength to the PK and the fourth line and give us stability from top to bottom .

    Then their is Bouillon, you do not notice him most nights which is okay because that means he is playing a steady game and not making any mistakes and just solidifying the bottom six defensive pairing.

    None of this was on this team last year. Even without the kids these players would have made this team at least a playoff contenter.

    Now we add the two Gally boys that ae playing with confidence and providing the additional offense that our third line never provided in the past.

    In a nut shell that is the reason that this team will continue to improve and show why it has a chance to make the playoff.

  2. #2 Avatar37 says:
    February 5, 2013 at 8:05 am

    One of the reasons for our early season success is the change in strategy on the PK and PP. It hasn’t really done anything to improve our PK, if anything, we’re worse this year than last. I also worry that teams will catch on pretty quickly to playing a 1 man high 4 men low PP.

    We’ve scored a lot of goals (Markov) by sliding one defenseman down low on the off-wing, but it won’t take long for teams to know this and prepare their PK for it. The question is, how much success will we continue to have once this happens? Regardless, our PK has to get better than its currently 14th ranked 80%.

  3. Well I am not thrilled with our PK this year, why would you change one of the most successful PK strategies in the NHL last year. Not sure but hopefully with PK Suban back that our PK will improve too.

    Basically, Markov has made the PP go without him it would be not much different than last year. Diaz also has given us an improvement at the point and provides some added strength in that area.

  4. #4 Avatar37 says:
    February 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Well, because the PP has shifted into more of a 1-3-1, 1-4 offense, the PK also seems to have shifted from a 1-2-1 diamond to more of a 1-3 defense (although at times it also slides back into a box). Also, the personnel being used seems to have changed. Last year, our second PK line seems to have been Bourque and Eller, this year, it’s Prust and Armstrong, and they don’t seem as good. They seem to often get confused as to who is going high or shifting over when the cross high. Maybe as they get more practice with whatever strategy Therrien is using, they’ll start to look more polished out there.

    Dias has what, 8 assists this year? 5 of those involve Markov (4 of them assists to Markov, 1 of them a pass from Markov). That’s over 60% of his assists involve Markov. Now, while I’m pleased with the progress Diaz has made, I think playing with Markov is due some of the credit for this.

  5. Well as I said, without Markov our PP would be the same as last year. Diaz’s success no only stems from Markov but the fact that he is shooting and getting the puck on the net. That is where all the assists are coming from. rebounds off his shot. Bobby Orr made a mockery of defencemen points stats because he could put the puck on the net and there were lots of garbabe goals. Diaz is doing something similar.

  6. #6 Avatar37 says:
    February 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Actually, 4 of his 8 assists involved passing the puck to Markov, not rebounds from his shot. 1 was a rebound from a shot he took on a pass from Markov. At least, this is what I got from the stats, I might be wrong.

  7. #7 Mats Naslund says:
    February 6, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I think adding Subban to the penalty kill will aid the numbers. Maarkov was holding his spot – and while I love the guy, he’s no where near as effective at this point as Subban.

    I also agree with you Avatar – I don’t love Armstrong out on the PK. I’m waiting to have a large enough sample size to do an analysis on special teams as a blog post, but so far – the eyeball test hasn’t been favorable on him.

    I know Prust was an effective part of NYR’s penalty kill over the past couple seasons – and I think he’s a little more effective.. but again. I don’t have solid numbers to back that up yet.

  8. #8 Avatar37 says:
    February 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I look forward to seeing your numbers, Mats, because by my observation, they haven’t looked all that good out there so far this year, and I’m not sure if it’s just a matter of getting used to a new system, or if they’re simply not that effective as players on the PK.

Leave a Comment