When you watch 82 games (plus playoffs in a good year) of hockey played by a single team, patterns begin to emerge over time. When you watch those games as intensely as many Habs fans do, patterns begin to feel like iron-clad truths. So, if you're a dedicated Canadiens fan, you know forechecking kills your team, the first round is a draft wasteland and Quebec-born opponents tend to own the team for which they grew up rooting.
Or do they?
In a casual discussion between a couple of fans earlier this season, someone made the comment "Great, Columbus is starting Garon. French goalie. The Habs are doomed." The other person asked how we know that's true, or whether it's even true at all. Just because it feels that way, doesn't make it a fact, he argued.
True enough. Looking at the statistics in the five years since the lockout, however, there are some interesting numbers to back up the theory that Quebec-born players...or at least certain ones...really do seem to own the Habs.
In 2005-06, the Canadiens faced a Quebecois goalie 18 times. They lost 11 of those games, for a meagre .389 winning percentage. The trend continued for each of the other post-lockout seasons. In 2006-07, they lost 10 of 18 against homegrown goalies, in 2007-08 it was 7 of 14. In 2008-09, they lost 58.8% of those games, or 10 out of 17 attempts. And, in 2009-10, they lost 11 of 19. In total, in the five seasons since the lockout, the Habs have a winning percentage of .434 against Quebec-born goaltenders. Compare that to an average winning percentage overall in those five seasons of .571, and a trend begins to emerge.
It's interesting to note that the best year the Habs have had statistically since the lockout was 2008-09. That year, they finished first in the Eastern Conference with a winning percentage of .634. Despite the stellar numbers, they were still only .500 against francophone goaltenders. It's true that Martin Brodeur skews the stats because he beats everyone, but how do you account for Biron coming off the bench to stone the Habs? Or Fleury losing four in a row, but shutting out Montreal?
It's not just the goalies either. Quebec-born skaters tend to do their share of damage against the Canadiens as well. In the five years since the lockout, previous to this season, there's a constant mismatch between the number of Quebeckers in the NHL and the number of goals they score against the Habs. In 2005-06, there were 73 players born in Quebec, who weren't goalies or on the Habs' own roster. Those players accounted for about 7.6% of all the players in the league, yet they scored an impressive 12% of all the goals the Habs gave up that season. When you compare that number to how the same Quebec-born players performed against the rest of the league, it's not even close. Of the 7588 goals scored in the NHL in 2005-06, those same players accounted for only 7.3% percent of them, which is much more in line with their actual representation in the league.
The same thing has happened in every year since the lockout. In 2006-07, Quebec-born players made up only 6.9% of the league's rosters, but they accounted for 11.3% of the goals the Habs gave up. The following year, 5.9% of NHL players scored 7.5% of the goals against the Habs. In 2008-09, it was 4.7% of the league's players scoring 8.1% of the Habs goals, and last year 5.7% of all the players in the NHL scored 8.1% of the goals the Canadiens allowed. In every season, Quebec-born players performed statistically better against the Canadiens than they did against the rest of the NHL.
Sometimes, Quebecois who do nothing against anybody else in the league manage to find their deeply-buried skills in Montreal. In 2006-07, for example, Alain Nasreddine scored one goal in the NHL. Against guess who? Denis Hamel played 47 games that year and scored five goals. two of them were against the Canadiens.
It's certainly an interesting phenomenon, accounted for by any number of factors. There's pride in playing in front of family and friends, or excitement at skating out on Bell Centre ice, listening to the roar they might not hear in Nashville or Long Island. In some cases, players want to exact a measure of revenge for not being drafted or signed by, or perhaps getting traded away from, the team they grew up adoring. Whatever the motivation, statistics bear out the truth we've always suspected: Quebec-born players love to screw the Habs. Even as their numbers dwindle in a league featuring more American players than ever before, Quebecois players manage to maintain their high level of performance against the Canadiens.
Perhaps that's an argument in itself for bringing more Quebec-born players back to Montreal. If you can't beat 'em, trade for 'em, because sometimes, the patterns you perceive are actually the true story. Based on the stats, Antoine Vermette and Patrice Bergeron would be much safer on the Habs side of the ice.
Now, about those former Habs who love to beat up on their old team...