Seeing as expectations were rather low, starting the season with a 4-4-0 record can only be seen as an encouraging sign for the rookie-laden Montreal Canadiens.
Martin St-Louis’ team is scoring fewer goals per game than they did in 2021-22, but the most significant improvement can be found when evaluating the goals against per game.
Last season the Canadiens finished dead last in the entire NHL by allowing 3.87 goals per game, however, this season they’ve cut that number by almost a quarter, and currently sit tied for 12th in the league with 2.88 goals allowed per game.
It’s particularly interesting given the team is currently icing a blue line with little to no experience, but thanks to solid play from Arber Xhekaj, Jonathan Kovacevic, and Jordan Harris, the Canadiens have managed to improve their results in the defensive zone.
As it stands, the Canadiens are allowing almost 4 fewer shots against at 5v5 per 60 minutes of ice time, ranking them 12th overall in the league, a significant improvement upon their results last season when they finished 27th overall.
The shot mitigation has led to the Canadiens controlling on average a little over 50 percent of the overall shots on most nights, yet another positive development for a team that’s trying to establish an identity.
And yet, despite notable growth, the team’s expected goals-for percentage (xGF%), which measures things such as shot location, shot quality, as well as other factors, is still virtually identical to their xGF% last season, which indicates there’s an issue in the process.
Simply put, the Canadiens still struggle to control the high-danger chances on any given night, ranking 29th in the league with a paltry 45.8 percent share of the quality chances.
Their saving grace has been the play of goaltenders Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen, both of whom have kept the Canadiens treading water in crucial situations.
Cette porte est fermée. 🚪
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 27, 2022
Montembeault, for example, faced 12 even-strength high-danger chances in his last start against the Buffalo Sabres, whereas Allen was forced to make 11 difficult saves in his start against the Minnesota Wild.
The same issue persists on the penalty kill, which has received a fair amount of praise in recent days due to the Canadiens’ 84 percent efficiency, yet remains a significant point of concern for the team.
Only one other team is allowing more shots on the penalty kill than the Canadiens, not to mention the fact that they’re actually allowing more high-danger shots against than they did last season, one of the worst campaigns in franchise history.
Despite being among the goaltenders that face the most quality chances, the Allen-Montembeault tandem has performed admirably, and frankly, well above expectations.
But relying on blocks and above-average goaltending is not a recipe for sustainability.
Blocking shots is like killing rats. Doing it is preferable to not, but if you’re doing it all the time it suggests you have bigger problems
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) March 18, 2015
Of course, you can’t simply remove goaltender performance from the equation, the players in question do play for the team, after all, but if the Canadiens hope to maintain a .500 record going forward, they’d be wise to focus on the process rather than the results.
(All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)