When my 34th birthday rolled around on December 4th of 2015 (feels like just yesterday I was watching the Monster Squad for the first time!), Dallas' league leading 20-5-1 record worth 41 points was matched only by the Montreal Canadiens. Immolating in the distance was the Anaheim Ducks, three points away from dead last in the entire NHL.
Since then the Canadiens and the Ducks have hit drastically different trajectories. One has resembled a withered, but momentous Balbao like figure (the Ducks). The other is looking like a roller coaster in the Final Destination franchise (Habs).
Right now Anaheim is 7-3 in their last ten. Their total shot differential (I'm with Micah, eliminating "shot attempt" from my vocabulary) is 3rd best in the league (Dallas is 5th by the way). Despite a horrific start, they're now four points out of the second wild card spot with three games in hand on the Colorado Avalanche who are 30th in total shot differential.
How did they manage this? They're doing something very revolutionary in sports psychology terms; trusting the kids with added responsibility. Since the middle of November, their 5 on 5 play (along with their scoring chances) has seen an upward trend thanks in part to the increased ice time of their young blueliners. Travis Yost noticed the strong correlation resulting in their uptick.
I'm particularly interested in the November to December change - I'll speak to that in a minute. But notice how Boudreau's changed it up on the back end. Hampus Lindholm's almost playing two more minutes a night (month over month). The same can be said for Sami Vatanen. Those minutes seem to be coming at the expense at some of Anaheim's bigger, physical bodies in Josh Manson and Clayton Stoner.
None of this guarantees that Anaheim makes it to the Stanley Cup playoffs. But they're adjusting in order to refine that puck salsa they'll need for whoever shows up on their dance card.
Then there's the Habs. Mr. Berkshire, take it away.
5-18-1 Since Dec. 2nd, 3 non-shootout wins. Worst collapse in Montreal Canadiens history. And the GM sits on his hands.— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) January 27, 2016
Andrew is excruciatingly calm compared to TSN's Tony Marinaro. Feel free to listen to Tony's brain split the atom on radio.
The Habs' current demise is fairly complicated. Not having Carey Price is a big blow obviously, but one player shouldn't make a team that is actually a really good possession squad (just above 5th place Dallas, in fact). In addition, they hired a data analyst who Michel Therrien has been receptive to. But between Therrian's oddball lines, brief drama with PK Subban after their second recent loss to Columbus, a Dallas like struggle on the Power Play times ten, and GM Marc Bergevin lobbing himself on a vulcanized rubber grenade without entertaining us with a Kevin Borseth meltdown, things just aren't looking so hot.
Dallas isn't mired in in some sort of dramatic fall. But they're still 3-6-1 in their last ten. And as I discussed with their special teams, elements of their game remain problematic, and have all season long.
Montreal isn't a full fledged case study on how to dig yourself deeper into the proverbial foxhole. Nor is Anaheim a full fledged case study on how to dig yourself out. But both showcase different ripple effects in the reflecting pool. On the one hand, Anaheim showing trust in their system, and the belief that experience doesn't guarantee efficiency. On the other, Montreal questioning their system, unsure of how to respond when that efficiency isn't guaranteed.
Right now, Dallas' efficiency hasn't been guaranteed. They rock a total shot differential Per 60 at even strength that is number one in the league, but a total shots against per 60 that is ranked 17th at even strength. Can they improve their dreadful PK? Taking cues from Anaheim and seeing what Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark can do on the Penalty Kill are reasonable experiments.
But this isn't a call to bring up half of Cedar Park, and dump the veterans on someone else's door. Nor is it a call to burn the farm just for some hot shot free agent. Rather, it's a hopeful reminder that a good franchise doesn't have to choose between the two when neither conventional wisdom, nor mere change are the only options capable of defining progress.