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Montreal Canadiens season update: Reality bites after bright start

The Montreal Canadiens raised expectations with a positive start to the season but reality has quickly set in as they have slipped towards the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

After going 5-2-1 in their first eight games, Montreal won only four of their next 13, and three of those victories came after regulation time with Martin St. Louis's men struggling at both ends of the ice in comparison to the rest of the league. 

The Canadiens recently snapped a four-game losing streak with back-to-back wins, only to then suffer their first shutout of the season in a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Canadiens the most successful side in NHL history but they are very much in a rebuild, having endured a couple of years of pain.

After shocking everyone by making it all the way to the Stanley Cup final as recently as 2021, the last two seasons have been tough to take for the fanbase, and although more of the same is likely this season, there are perhaps more reasons for optimism this time.

The franchise tied down the future of Cole Caufield in the summer and appear to be giving their young, rising stars the chance to develop their games with more ice time, although the early season-ending injury for Kirby Dach was a major blow.

In fact, injuries have been a major problem for the Habs over the course of the last two seasons with Montreal setting unwanted consecutive records for man-games lost with 720 in 2021/22 followed by 751 last season, and a similar theme appears to be developing.

Having lost Dach in just the second game of the season, the Canadiens have also placed defenceman Arber Xhekaj - who missed the end of last season after having surgery on his shoulder in February - on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Fellow defencemen Jordan Harris and David Savard as well as forward Rafael Harvey-Pinard will also miss significant game time.

Joel Armia, the team's fifth-highest-paid player, was out on loan to an AHL team before injuries forced the Canadiens to recall him.

The hope is this season that the Habs' core talent takes significant steps forward, with captain Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield proving they can become the elite talent that will ultimately make a difference.

After a quarter of the season has passed, it does seem unlikely that the difference will come this year, although it is also too early to dismiss the playoffs entirely with just three points to make up at this stage.

Here is a look at the 2023/24 season so far for the 24-time Stanley Cup champions.

Record:9-10-2 (20 points)
Point Percentage:.476 (22nd in the NHL)
Standings:7th in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference

Key wins

  • 10/22/23: 3-2 (OT) vs Washington Capitals
  • 10/24/23: 3-1 vs Buffalo Sabres
  • 11/12/23: 3-2 (OT) vs Boston Bruins

Key losses

  • 10/12/23: 6-5 (OT) vs Toronto Maple Leafs
  • 10/29/23: 3-2 vs Arizona Coyotes
  • 11/24/23: 4-0 vs Los Angeles Kings

Key Statistical Leaders

Goals

  • Cole Caufield: 6
  • Nick Suzuki: 6
  • Sean Monahan: 6
  • Alex Newhook: 6

Assists

  • Cole Caufield: 11
  • Nick Suzuki: 11
  • Mike Matheson: 10

Points

  • Cole Caufield: 17
  • Nick Suzuki: 17
  • Mike Matheson: 15
  • Sean Monahan: 13

Plus-Minus

  • Kaiden Guhle: +5
  • Jake Evans: +3
  • Justin Barron: +2
  • Johnathan Kovacevic: +2

Power Play Goals

  • Nick Suzuki: 3
  • Sean Monahan: 3
  • Mike Matheson: 3

Time On Ice

  • Mike Matheson: 24:51
  • Kaiden Guhle: 20:56
  • Nick Suzuki: 20:45

NHL Team Stat Rankings (out of 32)

Goals scored per game:28
Goals allowed per game:25
Goals scored 5 on 5:25
Goals allowed 5 on 5:11
Power Play Percentage:22
Penalty Kill Percentage:28
Faceoff Percentage:6
Shots on goal per game:28
Shots allowed per game:30
Save percentage:14

Montreal Canadiens Top Performers

It is no surprise to see Suzuki, Caufield and Matheson leading the way for the Canadiens so far, given they did so last season, while there is more responsibility on their shoulders with Dach on the sidelines.

Suzuki and Caufield share the same stats of six goals and 11 assists, with the latter having done so with almost two minutes less of average time on the ice.

Matheson is clearly seen as the defensive stalwart as he averages almost four minutes more of time on the ice per game than the next best Canadien (Kaiden Guhle).

Juraj Slafkovsky, the top overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, has contributed six points in 21 games so far this season after he posted 10 points in 39 games in his rookie campaign.

Montreal Canadiens Odds

To reach the playoffs:+1500
To not reach the playoffs:-4000
Worst regulation season record:+1000
To win the Stanley Cup:+20000

Verdict

Unfortunately for Montreal, their three leading players are scoring at an almost identical rate to last season, in which the Canadiens finished 28th in the league standings.

Yes, they are currently on track to improve on that record (.476 win percentage so far compared to .427 last season) but that would still be unlikely to secure a playoff place.

Injuries continue to be a major problem for the Canadiens and unless there is a significant improvement from those that stay fit, it would appear that this season is one of discovery - to find out if those young players are indeed good enough to provide the future core of the franchise.

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