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Canadiens Analysis

Canadiens Rebuild: A Silver Lining Emerges Amid Difficult Stretch



Montreal Canadiens Samuel Montembeault

Since essentially the beginning of the 2022-23 season, the Montreal Canadiens have been a team who have been outplayed on most nights but have been able to consistently rely on above-average goaltending from both Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen.

(Editor’s Note. This is a special guest post by Montreal Canadiens analyst Andrew Berkshire)

With the three-goalie rotation this season, despite all the complaints, Cayden Primeau has joined the two more senior goaltenders with some excellent performances and some average ones, but mostly keeping the Canadiens in games.

However, the warts have begun to show for the goaltenders by the eye test, ironically the skaters have started to pull things together both at 5-vs-5 and on the powerplay.

But I’m not one to settle for the eye test, so gaudy goals against numbers aside, let’s dig in a little bit into the Habs’ three goaltenders as a unit, no placing blame, and see if they’ve struggled as much as we think they have.

Checking The Numbers

It’s easy enough to run to your favourite stats site and look at a few metrics, but goalie statistics aren’t as robust as skater statistics, so let’s use the models of the expected goal from both Evolving-Hockey (EH) and Natural Stat Trick (NST).

Montreal Canadiens GSAA


EH’s model is a bit more generous to the Habs’ goaltenders than NST, but the lines generally follow each other in terms of the pattern of performance.

While I think the current curve of the NST line matches up with my impressions more closely, with arguably the highest peaks and the deepest valleys of the season occurring in the last 20 games or so, I would be a little surprised if the recent dips in performance actually brought the trio below expectations as the NST line suggests.

While the time there has been brief, according to NST, the Canadiens have seen their goals saved above expected dip below even cumulatively three times in the last 12 games or so, after being decidedly above expected for over half the season.

Whether you think the EH or NST model is more accurate, one thing is for certain; the goaltending has been more inconsistent. All three goaltenders have given excellent performances and pretty rough ones. That inconsistency has hidden both good and bad performance, but more recently has erased some serious improvements.

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Peaks And Valleys

Looking at the Canadiens’ season using these same two models for expected goals for and against, if we cut things to 5-vs-5 hockey, we can notice a few things.

Montreal Canadiens xgoals delta


The first thing that should become apparent is that the Canadiens’ lows this season have been significantly worse than their highs have been great. That’s not a surprise, given the talent level of the roster during the rebuild.

Secondly, in 31 of 58 games this season, they’ve been the worst even-strength team by both models.

Third, the Canadiens have had three stretches this season where they’ve been generally pretty good, from game one to about game 15, from game 22 to game 36, and currently from game 52 onwards.

Between those decent stretches lay two brutal troughs.

Encouraging Signs

The biggest thing I notice, though, is that they’re playing their most consistent hockey after losing Sean Monahan to a trade and after their longest stretch of bad games this season.

From games 37 to 51, the Canadiens managed just once to outplay their opponents by both models, ironically, a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. That kind of inconsistency isn’t surprising for a young, rebuilding team, but this surge after the All-Star break is surprising.

Small sample sizes can play tricks on your brain, but this is the first time this team has put together six straight good games at even strength since the start of the 2021-22 season, with the previous record being four, happening twice in 2021-22.

That the Montreal Canadiens are doing it while the roster is thinnest says a lot.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that suddenly you see articles coming out that the team’s young core is getting frustrated with the losses, they feel ready to take the next step as a group, and it looks like they’re trying to prove that on the ice.

After a year and a half of complaints from fans that goaltending has been holding the Habs back from getting a higher draft pick, the script has suddenly flipped, with goaltending now preventing a late-season surge.

That’s probably a good thing when considering the long-term goals, seeing as this team still desperately needs some high-end scoring talent, but the rest of the season just got significantly more interesting.

All Montreal Canadiens Statistics via Evolving-Hockey and Natural Stat Trick