There have been plenty of articles written over the past month about the horrendous stretch the Montreal Canadiens have gone through over the past two months – going from one of the top teams in the NHL to a team that stands a good chance of missing the playoffs. This bewildering transformation has led pretty much every hockey pundit to try to provide some sort of explanation. But as a Habs fan for more than forty years, I have no choice but to throw in my two cents as well.
In general, I really believe that when it comes to statistics, a graph is worth a thousand words. So I've put together a number of graphs which pretty much say what everybody else has been saying, but may paint the picture more clearly.
Since calculating statistics from a certain calendar date or from the beginning of a certain streak may seam a little arbitrary, I have broken up the team's first fifty games into five-game units, and charted a few basic statistics broken up by these units. No possession stats or anything else fancy, just basic numbers.
As can be seen in graph #1, this rough stretch of 25 games is not just a matter of losing a few tight games that could have gone either way. The Habs have been significantly outscored over these 25 games.
Interestingly, during this same stretch, they have been consistently outshooting their opponents by a wide margin. As you can see in graph #2, only in one of the five-game units were they outshot, and even then by such a small margin that you can barely tell in the graph.
Which of course brings us to graph #3. While not unexpected, there's been a huge drop in save percentage since Carey Price re-injured himself. For the first 25 games, the team's save percentage was well above 90%, while in the next 25 games, the team's save percentage only climbed above 90% for one of the five-game sets.
The one picture that is a source of optimism for Habs' fans is the last graph, shooting percentage. In the first 25 games, the team's shooting percentage was in the 10-14% range most of the time, falling as low as 8% only once. In contrast, in the next 25 games, this percentage bottomed-out, moving to the 4-6% range, climbing as high as 8% in only one of the five-game sets. For a little perspective: right now, the team with the lowest shooting percentage in the NHL this year is Anaheim with 7.4%.
As a number of hockey writers have pointed out, it's hard to imagine the Canadiens maintaining such a low shooting percentage for the rest of the season. Here's hoping that they're right.