Though the standings say the Canadiens and Ducks are among those best positioned to make a run at the Stanley Cup, the underlying numbers say differently. With some puck possession woes, the wait may grow for another championship in Montreal and Anaheim.
The Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks are similar teams on similar paths. They’re both at or near the top of their conferences thanks to recent hot streaks, but their play still leaves a lot to be desired. The standings say Cup contenders, but the underlying numbers say otherwise.
The two have been among the hottest teams in the league over the last month or so. Before last night’s loss, Montreal had won nine of their last ten games to surge to the top of the East, outscoring their opponents 34-13 in the process. Anaheim, meanwhile, is 12-3-1 over their last 16 games. For the Habs, a recent stretch of sky-high PDO is the reason the wins have been piling up. With Montreal, even mentioning PDO comes with the caveat that they have one of the best goalies in the world and talented shooters. With that being said what they’ve done during their streak is not something they’ll be able to sustain. Looking at ten game averages throughout the season, Montreal was at its highest shooting and save percentage this season during the streak. That won’t last very long and the crash back down to reality look like it’s already begun.
For the Ducks it’s a remarkable league-leading record in one-goal games of 20-0-6 that’s got them soaring which explains their surprisingly low goal differential of +5. Long term, most teams regress between a points percentage of .400 to .600 as winning tight games is mostly fuelled by randomness. One look at who led the league last season – Colorado at .800 – and how they’re doing this year only cements that. Like Montreal having one of the best goalies in the league, it should be noted that Anaheim has been a top five team in one goal games the past three seasons, so there may be some skill behind them winning close games so frequently, but their current rate shouldn’t be expected to continue. That’s not take anything away from their seasons, but the idea that they’re among the league’s elite is faulty as the Habs and Ducks simply don’t have the puck enough to be contenders. Puck possession isn’t everything, but in a seven game series where the bounces aren’t going your way, having the puck more than the other team will help stifle the inevitable bad bounces. Take a look at the Stanley Cup finalists from the East since 2007-08 and you’ll see that every team that didn’t have
Sidney Crosby was in the top half of the league in terms of Score Adjusted Fenwick. Montreal is in the bottom third. The East has a history of being noticeably weaker where anything is possible, but even Montreal isn’t on the level of past teams.
(The Cup winning Penguins in 2009 posted a significantly better Score Adjusted Fenwick once Michel Therrien, the Canadiens current bench boss, was fired. After the dismissal, the Pens were 8th in the league.) It’s even bleaker for Anaheim. They sit 11th right now, which is better than Montreal, but the competition they’re up against is much fiercer. Not one team to come out of the West was outside the top five in possession. Right now, that makes the contenders in the West Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles. Can Anaheim get by those teams? Can Montreal get by the likes of Tampa Bay, Detroit, Pittsburgh or even the league leading Islanders? History says no, but probability doesn’t mean destiny. Not having the puck as often as those teams doesn’t mean Anaheim and Montreal are bad, but their odds of winning are lower than the league’s upper echelon. Right now the Canadiens and Ducks are in that middle tier between contenders and pretenders and if they have serious Cup aspirations, they have to start controlling the game territorially because luck doesn’t last forever.