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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Montreal Canadiens Study: Does Preseason Success or Failure Matter?


So how 'bout them Habs? Not so good, eh?

To say that the Montreal Canadiens have not fared very well in the 2011-2012 NHL preseason, would be a huge understatement.

Through seven games, the Habs have rolled out to a less than stellar 1-6-0 record, scoring a measly 14 goals and getting scored on 28 times in the process.

Further compounding fans' angst is the fact that star defenseman, Andrei Markov, is injured and won't be ready for the start of the season, Scott Gomez and David Desharnais have both missed time with lower body injuries, P.K. Subban has allegedly been plagued by back issues, Alexei Yemelin has shown he still has adjustments to make and, overall, the veteran core of this team has thus far been pretty underwhelming.

So naturally, as the Canadiens prepare for their final preseason game tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Quebec City, Habs addicts around the world are sitting shiva on a season that hasn't even begun.

Of course they are.

No matter how many media types, myself included, say that preseason results don't matter, it never ceases to amaze me how much stock fans put into exhibition games.

Forget the fact that the Habs preseason lineup has largely been filled with rookies and prospects on most nights. So much so that on many a night they have been icing only six to ten veterans against teams who are icing upward of 15.

The bottom line is that with players like Brendan Gallagher, Gabriel Dumont and Nathan Beaulieu, to name a few, the Habs have a bevy of talented and intriguing prospects in their system. That they kept them around so long and continued to play them shows how badly management wanted to get a look at these kids.

The only game, so far, where the Canadiens have put a veteran lineup on the ice was Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. No, the Habs didn't fare very well, but the lineup and the players are making adjustments and it can take some time to get the motor running.

That and backup goaltender, Peter Budaj's, play has so far left much to be desired.

But still, the hand wringing continues.

So, in an effort to throw water on the raging fire of disappointment that Habs addicts are struggling with, here is a look at the Canadiens preseason record since the 2002-2003 season and how it reflected in their regular season and playoff success—or lack thereof.

Why did I select the 2002-2003 season as a starting point?

Well, to be honest, those were the stats that were most readily available to me and, writing this piece at five in the morning while my three-month-old son sleeps means that I have no problem going for the low-hanging fruit!

My analysis follows but I've broken down the numbers in greater detail at the end of the article, for all you stats junkies.

It's just the preseason

We all say that the preseason has no bearing on the regular season, but is that really the case?

Since 2002, the Canadiens have finished in the top-four in Eastern conference preseason standings, four times—they were first twice and fourth twice. However, Montreal was only able to finish in the top-four during the regular season once over that same span—during the 2007-2008 season they finished first in the Eastern Conference.

The other three times they finished seventh or worse during the regular season, even missing the playoffs during the 2002-2003 season when they finished 10th overall in the East.

If that wasn't enough, the Habs finished ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in preseason play during the 2008-2009 NHL season, a season in which the Pens ended up winning the cup—Pittsburgh was fourth in preseason play and fourth during the regular season.

Four other times, the Habs finished in seventh place or worse during preseason play, twice finishing 12th overall, once seventh and once eighth.

Montreal missed the playoffs again in the 2006-2007 season, finishing 10th overall during the regular season. The other three seasons they finished seventh (12th during preseason play), eighth (12th during preseason play) and sixth (eighth during preseason play).

So what's the difference?

Well, over the four seasons that Montreal finished in the top-four during preseason play, their average end-of-year position was 6.5. So let's round down to seventh overall, for the sake of simplicity.

Over the four seasons where they finished seventh or worse during the preseason, their average end-of-year position was 7.75, rounding down to eighth overall.

So there is one position difference between the four years they finished in the top-four and the four they finished seventh or worse. But if you look at the actual finishes, they are pretty similar:

Top-four preseason
2002-2003 - 10th
2005-2006 - Seventh
2007-2008 - First
2008-2009 - Eighth

Seventh or worse
2003-2004 - Seventh
2006-2007 - 10th
2009-2010 - Eighth
2010-2011 - Sixth

So the anomaly here is clearly the Habs first place finish during the 2007-2008 season.

If you remove the best regular season in each category (first in 2007-2008 and sixth in 2010-2011) the Habs have identical seventh, eighth and 10th overall finishes for the subsequent years, for an average 8.33 end-of-year position, or eighth overall.

And this despite having completely different levels of preseason success.

Conclusion

So what does this all tell us?

Well, aside from the fact that Montreal has had a stunning lack of regular season and playoff success over the last decade, it tells us, empirically, that success or failure during the preseason does not usually translate into regular season results. You could also infer that the numbers tell us that Montreal is in for another season of relative mediocrity, but that might be stretching things a bit.

Ultimately, we have to remember that the regular season is an 82-game marathon, not a sprint. It is a battle of attrition where even the best teams can be felled by injuries and bad luck.

So try to keep this in mind as you watch the Canadiens tonight against the Lightning, whether they win or lose.

Sure, it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when your favorite team rips it up during exhibition play. But ultimately, no matter how good or bad a team is during preseason, all that matters is how they play over the subsequent 82 games. That's when playoff positioning is decided and when wins and losses actually mean something.

Montreal Canadiens Preseason, Regular Season and Playoff Results since 2002

Finished in the top four in the East during the preseason

2002-2003 (first), finished 10th during the regular season, missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup champions: New Jersey Devils, finished eighth during preseason and second during the regular season.

2005-2006 (fourth), finished seventh during the regular season, bounced in the first round by the Canes
Stanley Cup champions: Carolina Hurricanes, finished third during preseason and second during the regular season.

2007-2008 (fourth), finished first during the regular season, lost in the second round to the Flyers
Stanley Cup champions: Detroit Red Wings, finished second during preseason and first during the regular season.

2008-2009 (first), finished eighth during the regular season, swept by the Bruins in the first round
Stanley Cup champions: Pittsburgh Penguins, finished fourth during preseason and fourth during the regular season.

Finished seventh to 12th in the East during the preseason

2003-2004 (12th), finished seventh during the regular season, swept by the Lightning in the second round
Stanley Cup champions: Tampa Bay Lightning, finished sixth during preseason and first during the regular season.

2006-2007 (12th), finished 10th during the regular season, missed the playoffs
Stanley Cup champions: Anaheim Ducks, finished eighth during preseason and second during the regular season.

2009-2010 (seventh), finished eighth during the regular season, lost in the third round to the Flyers
Stanley Cup champions: Chicago Blackhawks, finished fifteenth during preseason and second during the regular season.

2010-2011 (eighth), finished sixth during the regular season, lost in the first round to the Bruins
Stanley Cup champions: Boston Bruins, sixth eighth during preseason and first during the regular season.

Chronological Breakdown

2002-2003
Preseason: First in the East with a 7-2-0 record, 43 GF, 23 GA
Regular season: Habs finished 10th in the East with a 32-36-10-4 record, 78 points, 210 GF, 231 GAA
Playoffs: Missed the playoffs

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the New Jersey Devils
Preseason: Eighth in the East with a 3-3-2 record
Regular season: Second in the East with a 46-20-10-6 record, 108 points

2003-2004
Preseason: 12th in the East with a 2-4-1 record, 14 GF, 18 GA
Regular season: Seventh in East with a 41-30-7-4 record, 93 points, 208 GF, 192 GA
Playoffs: Swept in four straight games, in the second round, by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Tampa Bay Lightning
Preseason: Sixth in the East with a 4-3-1-0 record
Regular season: First in the East with a 46-22-8-6

2004-2005 - Lockout

2005-2006
Preseason: Fourth in the East with a 5-3-0 record, 27 GF, 23 GA
Season: Seventh in East with a 42-31-9, 93 points, 243 GF, 247 GA
Playoffs: Eliminated in the first round (six games) by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Carolina Hurricanes

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Carolina Hurricanes
Preseason: Third in the East with a 5-2-1 record
Regular season: Second in the East with a 52-22-8 record

2006-2007
Preseason: 12th in East with a 3-5-0 record, 26 GF, 33 GA
Season: 10th in East with a 42-34-6 record, 90 points, 245 GF, 256 GA
Playoffs: Missed the playoffs

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Anaheim Ducks
Preseason: Eighth in the West with a 3-2-3 record
Regular season: Second in the West with a 48-20-14 record

2007-2008
Preseason: Fourth in East with a 4-3-1 record, 21 GF, 24 GA
Season: First in East with a 47-25-10, 104 points, 262 GF, 222 GA
Playoffs: Eliminated in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers, in the second round

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Detroit Red Wings
Preseason: Second in the West with a 6-3-0 record
Regular season: First in the West with a 54-21-7 record

2008-2009
Preseason: First in East with a 6-3-0 record, 23 GF, 22 GA
Season: Eighth in East with a 41-30-11, 93 points, 249 GF, 247 GA
Playoffs: Swept in four straight games by the Boston Bruins in the first round

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Pittsburgh Penguins
Preseason: Fourth in the East with a 4-0-1 record
Regular season: Fourth in the East with a 45-28-9 record

2009-2010
Preseason: Seventh in East (Toronto finished 1st and missed the playoffs!) with a 4-2-1 record, 15 GF, 18 GA
Season: Eighth in East with a 39-33-10, 88 points, 217 GF, 221 GA
Playoffs: Eliminated in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Chicago Blackhawks
Preseason: Fifteenth in the West with a 2-3-1 record
Regular season: Second in the West with a 55-22-8

2010-2011
Preseason: Eighth in East with a 4-3-0, 28 GF, 24, GA
Season: Sixth in East with a 44-30-8, 96 points, 216 GF, 209 GA
Playoffs: Eliminated by the Boston Bruins in Game seven of the first round

Eventual Stanley Cup Winners – the Boston Bruins
Preseason: Sixth in the East with a 4-3-1-0 record
Regular season: First in the East with a 46-22-8-6

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Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter


(Photo by Getty Images North America)

2 comments:

Excellent post Kamal!

I get very frustrated with my fellow Habs fans this time of year. I too, am on the edge of my seat watching preseason games, but not to see Mike Cammalleri score 20 goals, or Carey Price get 8 shutouts, or the team to go 8-0 and show everyone how GREAT they are. That's not what preseason is about.

I have been happy with this preseason, despite the record. I tend to disagree with most people's takes on some of the prospects. I am very impressed with Yemelin. He looks like a Mike Komasarik (did I really just say that?) who can skate like Markov. I can't wait to see him get paired with a healthy Markov!

I've also been impressed with Aaron Palushaj. While everyone else has chosen him as the scapegoat/landing pad for insults, I feel this kid has worked hard and has only made mistakes by trying to do to much while some others (Brock Trotter) were doing nothing!

It's all outlined here. http://leshabitantssontmagnifique.wordpress.com/

I guess everyone should heed Mr. Price's words year to year and just, "Chill out!"

Hi Ponch58 and thanks for your comment!

Good for you for having a level head! Too many people are losing their minds over the Habs record.

As you correctly pointed out, there are a lot of bright spots.

Re: Yemelin, I don't think he's bad...I actually think he has a great set of skills. I just think he needs more adjusting to the North American game.

You're so right in that he and Markov could make a great pairing...whenever Markov is back that is!

Agree 100% with your Palushaj pick too. I liked a lot of what I saw from him this training camp...and man is this kid fast!

I'll check out your post shortly...thanks, again, for posting!

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