By Bob Trask – At first glance it is easy to dismiss the Montreal Canadiens and any potential for success they might have for the upcoming season. The team, after all, only managed to earn 55 points in the 82 game schedule and had the second worst differential in goals for and against. Goals against was a particular problem with the team finishing dead last in that category.
But to examine the Canadiens properly, they really need to be considered as two separate teams – the one that played the first 45 games and the one that played the last 37 games.
It is startling to see how differently these two teams played. The team that started the season was on a pace to earn 42 points over the course of an 82 game schedule; the team that finished the season was on a pace to earn 71 points over an 82 game schedule.
Injuries, COVID related factors and other issues did impact the first half team but the second half team also faced challenges. Four of the team’s regulars were traded during the second half and Jonathan Drouin played a sum-total of 2 games under Marty St-Louis before going on the injury list. Before anyone minimizes Drouin’s contribution, he was fourth on the team in points per game so his absence was not insignificant. A full, healthy season from Drouin could make a huge difference – hopefully he gets the opportunity.
It’s also true that Joel Edmundson did return to the lineup late in the year but only for 24 of the last 37 games.
A lot was accomplished with a depleted roster over the last 37 games. It’s true that a 71 point pace won’t make the playoffs but it would move the team up 6 or 7 spots in the standings. Maybe the Canadiens aren’t as bad as they appear at first glance.
The argument may be that by trading both Jeff Petry and Alexander Romanov while losing assistant coach Luke Richardson, the Canadiens have weakened themselves on defense. But have they? Last year they were a league worst in goals against so it’s difficult seeing them being a lot worse. The defense corps and its new coach (whoever that might turn out to be) deserves a chance to prove themselves.
Are the 2022-23 version of the Canadiens closer to being the 42 point team, the 55 point team or the 71 point team? In a division where the bottom teams seem to be improving, I believe the Canadiens are closer to being the latter with a shot at 75 points or more if everything goes well.
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