3 Teams Canadiens Can’t Sleep On Below Them in the Standings

Just as the Montreal Canadiens have exceeded expectations in 2022-23 so far, there are teams that haven’t lived up to them. A relatively impressive 9-9-1 (after finishing 22-49-11 in 2021-22), the Habs are at a potential crossroads as they determine where their season is headed and whether or not to go for it, even as early as American Thanksgiving, which serves as an unofficial cut-off, separating non-playoff and playoff-bound teams.

Related: Impressive Canadiens Have Competition at Bottom of Standings

On one hand, if you believe the Canadiens should stay in the running for a high draft pick for a second straight season, there’s good news. There are teams currently below them in the standings who will potentially leapfrog them due either to small sample sizes in the analytics department or good underlying numbers that will eventually lead to more wins.

On the other, if you’re of the belief the Canadiens shouldn’t try to contend for a high draft-pick, the below teams are helping the cause. As the Canadiens try to prove all the doubters wrong and make the playoffs, just one season after finishing last in the standings, these are the top three teams currently making it a reality:

3. Ottawa Senators (currently 31st at 6-11-1)

Power play: 21.5%

Penalty kill: 77.5%

Goals for per game: 3.17

Goals against per game: 3.56

Key Injuries so far: Josh Norris, Thomas Chabot, Cam Talbot

Surely, the Ottawa Senators are better than this. Hockey fans spent all summer hearing about how general manager Pierre Dorion had won the offseason, acquiring the likes of Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot, effectively ending the rebuild (impressively for the second straight season).

Claude Giroux Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators forward Claude Giroux – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Obviously, few foresaw the Senators starting out 2022-23 like this, at the bottom of the standings. And, while, yes, injuries are playing a role, other teams have it worse, technically even the Canadiens themselves, looking at the cap hits of injured players, which doesn’t even take into account goalie Carey Price stepping away from the game.

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Nevertheless, there is hope on the horizon, in the form of analytics. According to the tweet below, the Senators are underperforming based on their all-situations goal differential.

It’s just one metric, but the fact that the Senators are underperforming shouldn’t be news to anyone. They’re due for a winning streak, even if only due to the strength of their offense on paper. The question is how much of one can they muster and will it be enough to get back into playoff contention, as the hole they’ve dug for themselves is admittedly pretty deep.

2. Minnesota Wild (22nd at 8-8-2)

Power play: 20.3%

Penalty kill: 80.3%

Goals for per game: 2.67

Goals against per game: 2.94

Key Injuries so far: Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Hartman, Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno

Consider the Minnesota Wild the “gimme” of this group, as they’re the closest team to the Canadiens, directly below them in the standings, heading into Wednesday night NHL action. It’s not only that though, as the Wild are coming off an especially strong 2021-22 season, during which they finished second in the Western Conference with 113 points.

Their 53 wins last season are nothing to sneeze at, and, even following a less-than-ideal offseason, you have to believe they’re at least going to contend for a playoff spot down the stretch. True, their goaltending is a question mark, as Marc-Andre Fleury is up there at 38 years old, but, all alone, that hasn’t been the issue. It’s more so their offense.

Marc-Andre Fleury Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury – (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

Do the Wild miss a since-traded Kevin Fiala this much, to the point they’re only managing a 28th-ranked 2.67 goals per game? Looking at their roster, which does look slightly thin up front, maybe. However, with an in-his-prime Kirill Kaprizov heading up the forward group, some kind of upward correction is probably in order, likely at the Canadiens’ expense.

1. Washington Capitals (24th at 7-10-3)

Power play: 18.9%

Penalty kill: 78.3%

Goals for per game: 2.75

Goals against per game: 3.25

Key Injuries so far: Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Dmitri Orlov, Connor Brown

This is where injuries can cause a team’s season to go off the rails. The Capitals’ offense has been completely decimated to the point that they’re effectively missing one complete line, plus, without Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom, who has yet to play this season after offseason hip surgery, which addressed an injury that limited him to 47 games last.

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Without Backstrom available, the Capitals have been forced to try new things. That includes Dylan Strome as Alex Ovechkin’s pivot, which is obviously not what you’d expect or hope for heading into the season as a Caps fan. Needless to say, Strome is no Backstrom, all due respect to the former. However, with Backstrom (and Oshie) back practicing with the team, the Caps’ fortunes could be changing as we speak *knock on wood.*

While the Capitals are the lowest team in the standings on this list, they’re also perennial contenders and too good on paper not to be in the playoffs. Canadiens fans know all too well how much injuries can impact a team, with the Habs having set a man-games-lost record last season, immediately after having reached the Stanley Cup Final.

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To be fair, the Canadiens’ success in the 2021 postseason, while representing an incredible run that justifiably captured the hearts and imaginations of everyone in Montreal, was not sustainable (including the wear and tear on players like Price and Shea Weber). So, there were other contributing factors aside from just injuries to their last-place finish in 2021-22. In contrast, the Capitals were a team heading into this season you could have realistically predicted would be there in the end, after eight straight playoff berths. They still can be.

[Note: Sincere thanks to long-time commenter Pierre B. for suggesting the idea for this piece.]