Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Reasons to Stay Optimistic in 2013-14 Season

Ryan SzporerContributor IIINovember 9, 2013

Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Reasons to Stay Optimistic in 2013-14 Season

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    After starting out the year rather impressively at 5-2, the Montreal Canadiens have gone a terrible 3-6-1 over the last 10 games. With 65 games remaining, however, there’s plenty of time for the Habs to right the ship.

    One need only consider the fact that there were only 48 games all of last year to realize that the Habs, who went a pretty decent 29-14-5 in 2013, are more than capable of turning it around.

    Seeing as they’re 8-8-1 right now and far from in bad shape overall, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they still enjoy just as great of a season, if not a more successful one.

    Here are the five biggest reasons for the Habs and their fans to stay optimistic in 2013-14 despite their recent struggles.

5. The Fancy Numbers

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    Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
    Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    If you believe in a stat like PDO, which (in layman’s terms) measures how lucky a given team is, the numbers are on the Montreal Canadiens’ side…sort of.

    Of course, if you don’t believe in PDO, it’s unfortunately not like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus where you’ve got a choice in the matter. It’s a very real thing. People measure it. It exists.

    What you can argue, however, is that luck doesn’t exist, which will kind of paint you into a corner when the puck deflects oddly off the glass and then off the skate of the referee into your team’s net with 30 seconds left to go in a tie game.

    In any case, PDO adds together a team’s shooting percentage (8.6 percent) and save percentage (.930) and theorizes that teams with totals above 1.000 are essentially getting more bounces than normal. Teams below 1.000 are meanwhile unlucky and should, over time, move back towards 1.000.

    Looking at team PDO numbers so far this year, the Canadiens are actually one of the “luckier” teams in the league with a PDO of 1.016 (10th highest). So, if you’re a pessimist, you’re thinking the Habs are poised to fall off an even taller cliff than they have already.

    However, there is a flip side.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs (1.051), Tampa Bay Lightning (1.037), Boston Bruins (1.027), Ottawa Senators (1.024) and Washington Capitals (1.022)—teams that the Habs are battling for playoff spots—all have higher PDOs.

    Four of those five teams are even ahead of them in the standings currently, which, yeah, admittedly sounds kind of bad on the surface. However, that presents hockey fans with two possibilities:

    1. Either you believe those teams, including the Habs, are right where they should be in the standings (FYI, the rookie-coached, 13-2 Colorado Avalanche have the highest PDO) or
    2. You believe those teams are going to regress, giving Montreal a chance to catch up. You can’t have it both ways.

    Admittedly, that second argument doesn’t work with the Washington Capitals thanks to the new seeding system. Even if the Habs do end up catching the Caps, Washington will likely still finish ahead of them because they’re in the other, weaker division.

    Of course, fans can always delude themselves into thinking the Metropolitan as a whole doesn’t exist. No one would blame you for believing something so collectively bad was just made up by a bunch of suits with little to no brainpower. Oh, wait…

4. They’re in the Playoffs If They Started Today

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    Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher celebrates a goal against the Ottawa Senators during the 2013 playoffs.
    Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher celebrates a goal against the Ottawa Senators during the 2013 playoffs.Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

    Even if you believe that a concept like “luck” doesn’t belong in hockey, the Habs still hold their collective destiny in their hands. If the playoffs were to start this Saturday, the Habs would be the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference.

    Knocking off a No. 1 seed is something the franchise has actually accomplished before back in 2002 against the Boston Bruins. Not only that, but they would face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, which, again, if you believe in PDO, would be a very winnable series.

    That isn’t to suggest the Habs would definitely beat the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and...Radko Gudas (?) in a playoff round, only that it’s possible. And that’s the point.

    Anything can happen and not only in the playoffs. From this point on, the Habs can go on a hypothetical, insane 20-5-5 run and win their division. They did it last year, after all.

3. The Hard Schedule They’ve Just Endured

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    Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Bournival and St. Louis Blues T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo.
    Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Bournival and St. Louis Blues T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo.Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    One reason that this season is not like last year is the inter-conference play (along with the full 82-game schedule of course). In the early-going this year, one might be excused for forgetting that fact…but also for assuming the Habs play in the West.

    Indeed, 12 of the Habs’s first 17 games have been against, by all accounts, tougher Western Conference opponents, only three of whom have records below .500. Against those Western teams, Montreal is 5-6-1, which isn’t bad all things considered.

    Against the Eastern Conference, whom Montreal needs to play against in most of their remaining games (and compete for playoff positioning), the Habs are 3-2.

    Those two losses came against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, two teams the Habs should theoretically be able to beat on any given night, considering the rivalries between them.

2. The Easier Schedule They’ve Got Coming Up

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    The saying “it doesn’t get any easier from here on out" doesn't exactly hold true for the Habs.

    They play the Islanders on Sunday, followed by the surprising Lightning on Tuesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets next Friday and the New York Rangers next Saturday. Three of those teams are below the Habs in the standings.

    It’s a stretch rivaled only, perhaps, by four games in December, during which the Habs face the New Jersey Devils twice in addition to the Buffalo Sabres (and Boston Bruins). There are also three consecutive games of note later that month against the Philadelphia Flyers, Islanders and Florida Panthers.

    Both of those favorable stretches, though, are right around the corner, putting the Habs in good position to jump back into one of the Atlantic Division’s top-three spots by the end of the calendar year.

    Admittedly, there are stretches in 2014 that put to shame Montreal’s hectic early-season schedule. For example, from Jan. 16 to 25, the Habs play the Senators, Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Capitals.

    Additionally, from Feb. 26 to March 15, they play the Red Wings, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Bruins and Senators.

    However, those stretches are both months away, and there’s a chance, by then, the Habs will have established themselves as a truly elite team capable of beating each one of those teams.

    No one really knows just how good the Canadiens are this year in the season’s early going (and how bad some of those teams may be). That’s because, in regard to the Habs anyway, no one’s actually seen them play with a full lineup.

1. All the Injuries

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    Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty being helped off the ice by teammate Lars Eller.
    Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty being helped off the ice by teammate Lars Eller.Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images

    The Habs have lost 84 games due to injury as of this past Thursday. That puts them just behind the Edmonton Oilers in that category, providing optimism that Montreal can compete against the league’s elite given a healthy lineup.

    Granted, that implies that at one point this season the Habs will be able to ice a healthy lineup. And at this juncture, that seems about as likely as Ryan White being named to the Canadian Olympic team (although he might have a chance in boxing once the Summer Games roll around again).

    Even excluding the injury to defenseman Alexei Emelin, the Habs have never played a complete game with a healthy lineup this year. Hell, even excluding the injury to Douglas Murray, whom also started the season on the shelf, they still haven’t.

    Enforcer George Parros got concussed the first game of the season. With him still out, Max Pacioretty suffered a lower-body injury two weeks later. Then, Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust went down in the same game four days later, followed finally by Travis Moen.

    Only now are the Habs starting to get healthy again. Pacioretty, Parros, Moen and Murray are all back, with Briere and Prust skating again. Emelin is, meanwhile, poised to return late November, and he will perhaps represent the biggest boost to the lineup of all.

    Benefiting from his physical play last season, the Habs jumped out to a 25-8-5 record before going 4-6 the rest of the way (and 1-4 in the playoffs) without him.  

    At 8-8-1 right now, the Habs have learned to cope satisfactorily without him (and all the other players who have suffered injuries). In that sense, they’re a better team than they were last year. And the fact that they won the Northeast Division last season should be reason enough to stay optimistic this one.