At the start of the season, not many would’ve circled tonight’s Canadiens vs Islanders game as a marquee match-up. However, both teams have defied expectations in the first month of the season. The Isles lead their division and the Habs are tied for third in the Atlantic. Both teams underwent major off-season changes, with captains Max Pacioretty and John Tavares departing, but after hot starts for Montreal and New York, tonight’s game will be one to watch.
While each team has enjoyed success, one team has a much better chance of sustaining it over the long haul, based on what we’ve seen so far. Montreal has surprised everyone with top-10 caliber play in many key areas, while the Islanders are riding league-best goaltending which is masking a number of flaws in their game.
The Islanders’ performance on both ends of the ice ranks near the bottom of the league. They’re riding the second-highest true shooting percentage (shot attempts/goals) and the highest save percentage in the NHL, which is usually a sign that a drop off is coming, just ask the early-season Anaheim Ducks. When that high shooting percentage fades, the Isles are likely to rank closer to their near bottom-five expected goals for rank. Same should happen to their goals against unless Thomas Greiss maintains his .944 save percentage for the long run, which would be the best mark in the modern era.
On the other hand, the Canadiens have arguably been the most impressive team in the NHL this season. Even more eye-opening is that the stats show they are actually underachieving, ranking 22nd in true shooting percentage and middle-of-the-pack in goaltending. We’re ranking them third in our Power Rankings so far and, if they continue to play this way, they could surprise a lot of people this season, especially if Carey Price regains his top-10 goalie in the NHL form.
If both teams continue to play the way they have so far, expect both teams to compete deep into the season; Montreal for a playoff spot and the Islanders for lottery odds.