The Montreal Canadiens have won three games in a row
And while every season contains ebbs and flows, the recent winning streak has sounded the alarms among Draft lottery aficionados.
The chorus was particularly loud following the Canadiens’ 4-0 shutout win over the lowly Chicago Blackhawks, complete with accusations of failure directed toward Kent Hughes and the rest of the head office.
The team, which shed the majority of its talent last season and entered the season with four rookies on the blueline, a laundry list of underwhelming veteran wingers up front, not to mention questionable goaltending, did not do enough to ensure a poor finish.
It’s also easy to forget the team has endured the most injuries in the NHL this year, complicating matters when it comes to moving players.
But context is quickly forgotten when frustration mounts.
Of course, if the Canadiens had lost their last three games, which happened before the rare winning streak, accusations of deploying a questionable development plan would have come to the forefront.
Such is life at the helm of a rebuilding team followed by millions of passionate fans.
If you’re hoping the Canadiens will end up with a talented player at the 2023 Draft, fret not.
Even if the Canadiens finish with the seventh overall pick, there will be a bevy of talented players available outside of the top five
But those who point to the importance of drafting one of the top five players available (Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Matvei Michkov, Zach Benson) aren’t simply complaining for the sake of complaining.
The aforementioned forwards have game-changing potential, which is exactly what the Canadiens lack in their roster.
As it stands, the Canadiens are 26th in the league, and while it’s unrealistic to expect them to match the embarrassingly poor seasons put together by teams like Chicago, the Anaheim Ducks, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, Draft fans should not lose hope just yet.
That leaves three teams ahead of them the Canadiens can realistically catch in the race to the bottom of the standings: The Arizona Coyotes, the Vancouver Canucks, and the San Jose Sharks.
The Habs will face both the Coyotes and the Sharks later this season, games that carry significant importance for the Draft, but beyond those matchups, we can look to the remaining strength of schedule of every team to get a better idea of their potential results down the stretch of the season.
Strength Of Schedule
The Canadiens happen to have the most difficult strength of schedule in the NHL.
They’re set to face teams like the Carolina Hurricanes (x3), the Boston Bruins (x2), the New Jersey Devils (x2), the Toronto Maple Leafs (x2), and the New York Rangers.
Only nine of their remaining 28 games will take place against teams not currently in a playoff spot, two of which are scheduled against the Panthers, who are sniffing at a Wild Card spot.
To get a better idea of the murderer’s row that awaits the Canadiens, we can simply take a look at their March schedule.
Not only do they have 16 games in 31 days, nine of which take place on the road, but they’ll also be facing some of the best teams in the league.
Between March 5th and March 23rd, the Canadiens will play 10 games in 19 days, facing, in order, the Vegas Golden Knights, the Hurricanes, the Rangers, The Devils, The Colorado Avalanche, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning (x2), and the Bruins.
Despite the recent uptick in results, it’s not difficult to picture the Canadiens emerging from the difficult stretch of games without a single point.
What’s more, if we take a look at how they end the season, the Habs are set to face the Washington Capitals, Maple Leafs, Islanders, and Bruins, yet another stretch of games that promises very low odds Martin St-Louis’ team will pick up points.
While the Canadiens have the most difficult schedule in the league, the same cannot be said about their tanking competition.
The Vancouver Canucks have one of the easiest schedules in the league, with only the Seattle Kraken and Dallas Stars facing an easier road to close out the schedule.
The Coyotes have the ninth easiest schedule, whereas the Sharks have the 11th most manageable schedule.
In other words, the overall strength of schedule of the competing tank crews looks as follows:
1st – Canadiens
24th – Coyotes
30th – Canucks
The Canucks will face the Blackhawks (x2), the Ducks (x3), the Sharks (x1), and the Coyotes (x2), among others, as they cruise to the finish line with very little projected resistance.
Statistically speaking, the only real competition when it comes to projected results, arises when analyzing the Coyotes’ recent numbers, but the difference is rather negligible.
For example, the Canadiens have an expected goals for percentage of 44 percent, the fourth-worst result in the league, whereas the Coyotes are slightly lower, at 43 xGF%.
The Sharks and the Canucks are in a much healthier position, with 52.6 xGF% and 47 xGF%, respectively.
There are no guarantees in sports.
But given the underlying numbers, the remaining strength of schedule, and the projected wins for the aforementioned teams competing with the Canadiens, don’t be surprised if the Habs are once again finding themselves picking among the top 5 choices at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick
All strength of schedule information via Tankathon.