No surprises for the Canadiens through 49 games

Graphic by Alexa Hawsworth

The Montreal Canadiens are where they should be in the standings after the season’s unofficial first half.

The all-star break has arrived, and the Canadiens currently sit in seventh in the Atlantic division and 26th in the NHL with a 20-21-8 record through 49 games. The Habs held a 20-25-4 record through 49 games in 2022-23. Injuries have been feasting on the team, as has been the case for the past several seasons.

Promising centre Kirby Dach tore his ACL in the second game of the season and is expected to miss the entire season. Centre Alex Newhook sustained a high ankle sprain in December and was slated to miss 10-12 weeks. Centre Christian Dvorak and defenceman Chris Wideman have also missed significant time.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens have persevered and look rather similar to the 2022-23 team in several categories. The team’s 2.78 goal-per-game pace through 49 games in 2023-24 mirrors its 2.83 goals per game clip from last season.

According to NaturalStatTrick’s expected goals model—how many goals a goaltender should allow based on the quality of shots that they face—Habs goaltender Samuel Montembeault is having another solid season. He has saved 7.76 goals above expected over the course of the season according to the model, meaning the average goalie would allow roughly eight more goals than Montembeault has this season. He is already approaching his 2022-23 performance, where he finished with 8.3 goals saved above expected in 40 games.

As they did in 2022-23, young players continue to lead the team. Captain Nick Suzuki (24) is the team’s leading scorer with 42 points in 49 games. He notched a career-high 66 points last season and is currently on a slightly better pace at 70 points over 82 games.

Winger Cole Caufield (23) is the team’s leading goal scorer with 17. It’s a step down from his 26 goals in 46 games last season, where his unfortunate injury likely prevented him from becoming the franchise’s first 40-goal scorer in 31 years. However, he has touched twine more often as of late, scoring six goals in his past eight games.

One reason for the 2023-24 Canadiens to be cautious is the 2022-23 team’s second-half collapse, going 11-18-2 record in their final 31 games following the all-star break. But this iteration of the Habs could look much different soon with the Mar. 8 trade deadline rapidly approaching. Centre Sean Monahan, defenseman Mike Matheson, and goaltender Jake Allen have all been heavily involved in trade rumours. With the team well outside of playoff contention, general manager Kent Hughes and his colleagues could be looking to get valuable returns for those players.

Right now the Habs would hold the seventh overall pick in the 2024 NHL draft. Barring any major turnaround, they should not shift more than one or two places in the overall standings down the home stretch.

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