A Startling Resemblance: Are the 2008-09 Canadiens just the 2007-08 Senators?

Ahorrificresemblance_medium


On Wednesday, April 22, 2009, the Montréal Canadiens lost the fourth game of the Eastern Conference first-versus-eighth quarter-final against the Boston Bruins, being swept out of the playoffs by the very team that they eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the previous season.

On Wednesday, April 16, 2008, the Ottawa Senators lost the fourth game of the Eastern Conference first-versus-eighth second-versus-seventh (Ed.: Thanks SLC) quarter-final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being swept out of the playoffs by the very team that they eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the previous season.

Both teams had started their seasons with incredibly high expectations, one with high hopes in their centennial season and the other coming off a very impressive run to the Stanley Cup Final. Both hit the ground running when the puck dropped on their respective seasons, Montréal winning eight of their first ten, Ottawa winning 15 of their first 17. Both slowed down tremendously as the season wore on, fired their head coaches (Guy Carbonneau for Montréal, John Paddock for Ottawa, both of whom one-time assistant coaches who'd been given promotions) and saw their general managers take over behind the bench (Bob Gainey for the Habs, Bryan Murray for the Sens). Each team saw some degree of improvement under their general managers, and barely scraped into the eighth spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference playoffs. And then both were unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the very teams they'd eliminated in the first round of the previous year.

 

RECORD

PTS%

RECORD

PTS%

 

OTT

OTT

MTL

MTL

1

9-0-1

90

8-1-1

85

2

7-3-0

70

3-3-4

50

3

4-3-3

55

5-4-1

55

4

6-3-1

65

8-1-1

85

5

5-5-0

50

4-6-0

40

6

4-5-1

45

3-6-1

35

7

3-5-2

40

5-3-2

60

8

5-6-1

46

5-5-2

50

The resemblance is startling. The chart above shows the statistical similarities throughout the regular season, which was the basis for the graph at the top of the article. Ottawa had a higher high, but Montréal had more of them. Montréal had a lower low, but Ottawa had more of them. Those relatively minor differences aside, the 2008-09 Montréal Canadiens performed so similarly to the 2007-08 Ottawa Senators that it's eerie.

There were, obviously, also significant differences. In the personnel, for one, and the transactions made--or not made--throughout the season. With the Senators looking at some significant producers entering unrestricted free agency, both of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley were re-signed to long-term, big-money contracts. The Canadiens, in a similar situation with Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, and Robert Lang, decided against any decisions on contracts. Those, however, are off-ice distinctions; the similarities between the on-ice results are too stark to disregard.

Should this become a trend for fans to expect in the new NHL, or is this simply a case of two coincidentally similar situations falling onto two coincidentally similar (and similarly over-analyzed) organizations? It could certainly be that the pressures placed on teams that can hardly build dynasties due to the realities of the salary-cap NHL are unfair, and that the disproportionate load placed onto top-line players wears them out before the season has even entered its most important phase, the playoffs. But that's merely conjecture based on a relatively small sample size, for the time being. We may have to see it as a simple resemblance at the moment, albeit a startling one.

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