Montreal Canadiens Are Playoff Locks with 37 Games Left

While the Montreal Canadiens might not belong in the playoffs according to advanced stats, sheer probability says otherwise.

According to Sports Club Stats, the 29-13-3 Habs enter the unofficial second half of the season following the All-Star Game with a 98.8% chance of making the postseason. This with 37 games remaining in their schedule.

 

Probability and Stats: Friends or Foes?

Of course, as has been well-documented, from a puck-possession standpoint, the Habs are in the bottom third of the NHL.

In terms of Corsi at five-on-five, the Habs have earned just 48.7% of shot attempts. Putting that in perspective, the top-ranked Los Angeles Kings have 54.5%. Those are the same Kings that are currently one point out of the playoffs in the Western Conference, fyi.

Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy
Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy – (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Now, obviously advanced stats have their use and have been successful in predicting playoff winners in the past. However, if there’s one thing the Colorado Avalanche have taught us it’s that playing Patrick Roy behind a team including Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg is a good idea.

If there’s two things the Avalanche have taught us, the other is any given season any given team can play rope-a-dope successfully over an extended period of time and defy analytics. Last season, the Avalanche had a five-on-five Corsi rating of 47%, but they still managed to win the Central Division, beating out, among other teams, the Chicago Blackhawks during the regular season.

Granted, the Avalanche then got upset by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs and proceeded to make a whole rash of confusing offseason moves… But, of course, there’s only so much you can learn from one team. Even the best professors out there have mental breakdowns.

 

Montreal Canadiens in Good Standing(s)

Are the 2014-15 Habs this year’s version of the Avalanche? Fans will have to wait until the playoffs to find out, but, as alluded to earlier, they will definitely get that chance to either see the Habs continue to play with fire or crash and burn this spring.

For example, a simple glance at the standings will reveal just how good of a position things are currently for Montreal. Not only are the Habs just three points out of first place in the Atlantic Division with three games in hand, but they are also 11 points up on the ninth-place Florida Panthers (who have one game in hand).

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume the Panthers are able to make good on that one game in hand and that difference between the two teams becomes nine points instead. Even then, the Panthers, who have just one playoff appearance since 2001, will still have a Herculean labor ahead of them.

According to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, “just three of 32 NHL teams at least four points out of a playoff spot on Nov. 1 recovered to make the playoffs from 2005-06 to 2011-12.”

That’s a pretty decent sample size. It’s also almost February 1 right now, which means the Panthers, who are now seven points behind the eighth-place Boston Bruins (with four games in hand), will have a pretty hard time knocking out a team five spots up on them in terms of points, let alone making the playoffs at all.

The sad truth is if the Panthers—a team that deemed it necessary to give Dave Bolland, all nine points’ worth of him this season, a five-year, $27.5-million contract—if they represent the best chance that the Habs miss the playoffs (and they are, point-percentage-wise), Montreal is in good shape… The Panthers not so much for the next five years.

Furthermore, with 19 home games remaining (18 on the road), and 21 against teams currently out of the playoffs, the Habs are as good as in. Now, Montreal may not necessarily finish in the decent position they’re in right now (third in the Atlantic). They might even realistically drop to a wild-card spot. But that’s a story for another day.

Montreal Canadiens Carey Price and P.K. Subban
Montreal Canadiens Carey Price and P.K. Subban – (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

In this world, little is guaranteed, except maybe death and taxes, as the saying goes. With these Habs, you can count on three things specifically:

  • Montreal bleeding the rock in net that is Carey Price dry this season
  • Montreal scoring the first goal maybe five more games the rest of the way
  • Montreal doing both come mid-April

It’s simple stats.