The Forum: Feels Good or Fools Gold?

It’s roughly two weeks into the 2014-2015 season and the Canadiens sit tied for first in the NHL with a 5-1-0 record. Is this a sign that the Habs have truly emerged as one of the league’s elite teams or, as their net-zero goal differential would suggest, is there an element of fools gold to the Habs scorching hot-start?

Zach (@ZachVanasse) – In the world of bronze age advanced stats, I actually quite like the goal-differential as an indication of a team’s true abilities, however, with anything like this you have to throw out the outliers, which in this case includes a 7-1 loss to the Lightning. I’d say let’s toss out the extremes to get a more fair view of goal-differnetial, but the most extreme outcome in a win was a 6-4 victory over the Bruins, and required an empty-net goal to give the Habs a two score buffer.

That is to say, the Habs have more-or-less eked out all five of their victories and were embarrassed in their only loss.

On the one hand: I believe elite teams find ways to win no matter what, and the Habs have done exactly that through six.

On the other hand: I’m not ready to call this club a juggernaut before they’ve even laid down a no doubt win.

Steph (@stephdarwish) – I don’t actually have a proper answer to this question as I like to wait until at least the 10-game mark, if not the 15-game mark to gauge a team.

The Leafs started last season 5-1 so…

Kyle (@kyleroussel) – I’m with Stephanie in that I usually wait even longer, usually around the quarter-pole, before I start declaring if the team is for real or not.

For the sake of this exercise, I’d like to think that the Canadiens are certainly now among the elite in the East. I think they’ve surpassed Boston, and along with Pittsburgh, Tampa, and New York, the Habs are a force to be reckoned with, if not THE force to be reckoned with. But when you pile on the Western elite…yeah…let’s just leave it at that for now.

In such a short sample, outlier games such as the 7-1 drubbing suffered at the hands of the Lightning can really skew numbers. On the other hand, constantly falling behind and playing catch-up are not recipes for long-term success. Yes, great teams find ways to win, but with relative parity, and the “any given night” league we live in, even great teams will have their point totals eroded ever so slightly over the course of 82 games to remove them from the truly elite if the bad habits persist.

Dennis (@DennisKane) – I’m with Pierre McGuire on this one. If they can get their power play going properly, they’ll be a powerhouse.

Sean (@TheONeillFactor) – Obviously any questions posed at this point in the season come with the massive and obligatory SMALL SAMPLE SIZE caveat. Still, after months of speculation, is there anything that can be gleaned from two weeks worth of actual hockey?

As Zach mentioned, the Habs net-zero goal differential isn’t all that disconcerting as it’s been heavily skewed by one stink-bomb performance against the Lightning. What’s more troublesome is Montreal’s tendency to fall behind in games before rallying to win – good teams find a way and yadda yadda yadda but that’s not a recipe for long-term success.

That being said, the Habs are a good team, and ascending to the league’s upper echelon would be the ideal next step for a team that’s been steadily improving for three straight seasons now. We’ll know more about this team with each passing week, but it’s not hard to envision a team with this goaltending, this depth, and this blueline emerging as a contender in a wide-open Eastern Conference.

Alex – I, like many others, am reluctant to look too far into anything yet. I generally don’t like to make judgment calls on how we are “doing” until at least game 20 (more, if we’re doing poorly).

With that in mind, I take our 5-1 record with a grain of salt – We’ve had some close ones in there, close ones that I’m proud of (come backs v. Philly and Colorado, most recently), which at this point I wouldn’t want to reflect either poorly, as being some type of unconvincing start, or positively, by trying to label us some type of Clutch Comeback Canadiens at such an early point.

But, saying that, I take our 20-20 goals for/against with a grain of sugar – that 7-1 loss is misleading, and 6 games in it’s really hard to allow those types of stats to impact my impression. I’d weigh the win/loss category more significant at this point, in spite of my ingredients listed above: If I think 6 games leaves us needing more time to let the win-loss category even out, surely the goals for/against category needs even more. Furthermore, I’ve always found that Carey Price is a difficult goalie to gauge statistically. He’s clutch as you’d want any goalie to be, and can stop a LOT of shots on any given night – as such, I prefer looking at his performance on a game by game basis over a longer sample size than what we have in front of us.

And so, we can be encouraged – a nice quick jump on the season with a lot of games ahead of us to watch and discuss and warm our winter nights. I’m not willing to see it as anything more than that just yet, though I like where we’re headed.

Damon (@DTA23) – Goal differential is a great stat to look at, but as mentioned you need a larger sample size to use it as a true measure.

I think the Habs are a very good team. They had a really tough schedule to open the season with that road trip right off the bat. Looking at the first games, I think it’s easy to say the Habs have three lines that can score and play with pace. Watching them early, I’m really a fan of their style of play. They seem to have a significant speed advantage and are generating lots of scoring chances.

The thing I’m very excited about is unlike last year the Habs are scoring 5-on-5 and are not relying on powerplay opportunities to score.

I enjoy the regular season a lot but I don’t put as much stock into it as most. Eighty-two games does a very god job of telling you who the best team is, but the playoffs are a different monster. That will come down to health, goaltending, and matchups.

All that being said, I think the Habs have what it takes to finish atop the Eastern Conference this year.

On a side note, I was at the Burgundy Lion on Saturday night and who should walk in but Gallagher, Tinordi and Tokarski. Tinordi looked like a giant by comparison.

The Two-Four: The Boris Yeltsin Memorial Cup

Four games in and everyone is overreacting to everything. That means the Habs are back! With the home opener looming against the Bruins, Sean and Zach take a look back at Montreal’s opening road trip that left them with a 3-1-0 record and a black hole for a powerplay. Could the Sabres beat the best KHL team? Is Subban trying to do too much? Is Gilbert the problem? All these questions and more answered. It’s The Two-Four!