Now that the Montreal Canadiens have hit the quarter mark of the 2023-24 season it’s the perfect time to take a look at some of their statistics.
In this article, we will compare their start this season to the first 21 games of the previous year to get a better idea of whether the Habs are improving.
After 21 games in 2022-23, the Montreal Canadiens had an 11-9-1 record. Their .548 points percentage was 17th overall in the NHL.
After 21 games this season, the Habs have a 9-10-2 record and a .476 points percentage, which is 25th overall in the league.
Seeing as we’re only dealing with 21 games, the drop in the points percentage isn’t overly concerning, nor is the record. To get a better idea of the results we have to delve deeper to evaluate the important underlying numbers.
Stats Pack – Shots And Goals (5v5 only)
At first, we’ll take a look at two statistics that describe what happened: Corsi and goals. Corsi is the term analysts use to describe any type of shot That includes blocked and deflected shots. It’s not a great name by any means but just think of it as shots (whereas shots that are not blocked are better described as shots on the net).
Here are the results for the first 21 games of the season for those statistics.
As you can see, this year the Canadiens are taking more shots per game (CF P/60), which is encouraging, but they’re also allowing a lot more shots against (CA P/60), which is very concerning.
In that vein, they control fewer shots during games and currently rank 28th in shot control, a fairly significant downtick compared to 2022-23.
However, it has not translated to worse results when we take a look at their overall control of goals. They’re a lot scoring less, but they’re allowing much fewer goals against, which means they’re currently among the top 16 teams in their overall control of goals, with 50.7 percent.
That’s good news, but it also raises some red flags.
Teams that control fewer shots rarely end up controlling more goals.
One of the main contributing factors to their better control of goals at 5v5 is the play of their goaltenders. Last season the team had one of the worst save percentages after 21 games (90.2, 30th overall), whereas this year thanks to the excellent play of Samuel Montembeault and to a slightly lesser extent Jake Allen, the team has saved 93.1 percent of the shots it has faced, good for 5th overall in the NHL.
It’s also important to note no other team allows more rush chances than the Habs, which puts the play of their goaltenders into an even brighter light.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) November 23, 2023
Scoring Chances And Expected Goals
We’ve established that for the time being, much like Farmer Hoggett in Babe, the goaltenders are saving the Canadiens’ bacon.
But what about their ability to control quality scoring chances? That was their biggest weakness last season.
To verify the difference in 2023-24, we can take a look at high-danger scoring chances. That statistic breaks down into high-danger chances for (HDCF) and high-danger chances against (HDCA).
In addition to the high-danger chances, we’ll take a look at the expected goals.
Expected goals is a predictive metric that factors things such as shot locations, the quality of scoring chances, shot type, and other information to give us a good idea of how the team will perform going forward. We’ll take a look at the expected goals for (xGF), expected goals against (xGA), and the overall share of expected goals (GF%).
Last year, the Canadiens produced very few quality chances.
After 21 games, they were among the worst teams in the league when it came to high-danger scoring chances per 60. This season, the team is doing a better job generating decent chances, at least relative to 2022-23.
They’re allowing their opponents to take roughly the same number of quality chances as they did the previous season, which means overall, they’re slightly better in this important statistical category, though going from a 44.2 percent control of the high-quality chances to 44.6 is nothing to write home about.
As for the predictive stats, they paint a more concerning story.
There’s a slight uptick in expected goals for, but a bigger downtick in expected goals against, which means their overall xGF% has dropped.
The Montreal Canadiens are currently 30th in the league in this crucial metric.
Simply put, overall, the Habs are producing a similar level of offence, but they’ve taken a big step back defensively. If not for Allen and Montembeault, the Canadiens would be closer to the basement of the league than their current 23rd overall position in the standings.
Of course, we can’t simply remove the goaltenders from the equation.
They play for the team, and therefore their numbers still count. But we have to be concerned about the sustainability when we consider all the other defensive metrics that suggest the Habs should be allowing more goals against per game.
We also have to keep in mind there are injuries at play. Losing Kirby Dach in the second game of the season has been a significant drag on the team because he was an analytics darling, but if a team relies on a player who is yet to finish a season healthy to propel them to the next level, there are bigger issues at play.
And then there’s a matter of their upcoming strength of schedule, which could result in a hefty number of losses for Martin St-Louis’ team.
More than anything, these numbers tell us we have to remain patient. And that things could get worse before they get better.
The Montreal Canadiens are still far from being a competitive team, even when their goaltenders are producing some of the best numbers in the NHL.
They simply do not have the talent in place to push them to the next level, yet.
But if they play their cards right and add another top-10 pick to the mix, things could get better in a hurry.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via Natural Stat Trick.