Alas, I'm not good at math, nor do I know which statistics to look for. But Timo Seppa, a writer at Puck Prospectus, has crunched the numbers and decided that Montreal's play since the Olympic break makes the Habs a prime darkhorse contender to come out of the east. His logic appears pretty sound, namely that since Andrei Markov's return from the injury the Canadiens have become a much stronger defensive team at even strength, which offsets some of the current offensive woes.
Seppa also goes through an exercise I tried to do about a month ago, projecting what a fully healthy Habs squad would like. Except he uses something called GVT, which stands for Goal Versus Threshold. It's a statistic that Puck Prospectus author Tom Awad devised in order to be able to compare offensive players with defensive players and goaltenders to know who is most valuable to a team. Or at least that's what I can understand. The explanation of GVT by Awad is in two parts, part one is here and part two is here.
Seppa's number crunching also presumed that Jaroslav Halak would have started 10 more games at this point, which brings us to today's news that he was named the NHL's first star of the week in a bit of a no-brainer decision.
The crux of Seppa's thinking is that if the Canadiens had no injuries to their key players, and if Benoit Pouliot spent all season in Montreal and if Halak had played more often, the Canadiens goal differential would improve by about 30 goals. That's a very significant jump. He uses that to determine, seeing as all of the factors he used are currently in place, that the Canadiens will be a very difficult out in the first round of the playoffs and beyond. He concludes his piece like this:
The methodology appears sound, but I'm not sure if there's a way to statistically project how a team will respond in the playoffs. Still, I thought Seppa's work would be of significant interest to all of you.