We present the second part of Habswatch‘s in-depth look at Jacques Martin’s strategy and systems. Today, the coach’s career record and personal philosophy for success are examined with a eye towards their impact on the performance of the Canadiens.
If you missed part one of the series, you can find it here.
What Jacques Martin thinks it takes to win
Now that we’ve seen what game elements winning teams stress the most, it’s time to take a cold, hard look at Jacques Martin. To do that, I looked back at his last 10 years of coaching prior to Montreal, looked at how his teams performed the year after he stopped coaching them and how Martin has fared in Montreal after getting a clean slate of players to execute his system:
Jacques Martin coaching record
|10 YEAR||RANK AVG||2.5||42.1||9.1||10.1||10.0||10.7||11.5||3.5||11.4||19.5|
* Pace & ranking after 54 games ** Team performance without Martin as Coach
Excluding his first year in Ottawa, the entire time Martin coached the Senators they were a puck-possession team capable of sustained offensive pressure. Lots of quality shots producing enough chances to be a top six offense and generally a top 10 club 5-on-5. The Achilles heel of all those Senators teams was primarily in goal where the weak save percentages carried into the playoffs in five of seven playoff appearances under Martin. There are valid concerns that he appeared to have difficulty adapting to changing conditions under pressure in the playoffs but that’s hard to quantify.
What can’t be ignored is the fact the Senators got better the after Martin left. Their offense went up and their goals against went down relative to the rest of the league in a post-lockout season that saw the average number of power play opportunities per team jump by about 100. Most telling was the goal differential widened by 30 over Martin’s last season, helped in large part by even more offensive pressure generated by 5-on-5 goal scoring that went from fourth to second best. So, for as good as the Senators were under Martin, one has legitimate reason to question if he was actually holding them back.
When Martin went behind the bench in Florida he altered his system to compensate for fewer offensive players capable of playing solid, two-way hockey. His strategy became more passive and while 5-on-5 goal scoring benefited from a group of big forwards who could and did capitalize on a volume of low percentage, perimeter shots the Panthers 5-on-5 ratio fell every year Martin was coach.
Where his system ultimately failed was the passive system he implemented just didn’t force teams to take enough penalties. In fact, the number of power play opportunities dropped every year he coached the Panthers, ranking them 30th, 30th and 29th, effectively wasting an improving power play percentage that was 24th, 13th and 6th during his tenure. And yet again, after Martin stopped coaching the team improved. More wins, more goals, fewer goals against and much better 5-on-5 goal scoring that jumped back up to sixth best in the league.
Jacques Martin had a full month of meetings with Gainey, Gauthier and their pro scouts to have a say on which number one center the team would target to anchor his system and which players would best complement the puck-possession, best defense is good offense mantra he spoke about when the Canadiens signed him to a four year contract to coach the Habs.
Trouble is, Martin brought the Florida system to Montreal, not Ottawa’s which he alluded to in quotes to the media the day he was hired and ultimately, it’s costing the Canadiens wins and a higher playoff ranking. As I described in the composite Stanley Cup winning team, defense does matter and that’s all well and good but it cannot come at the expense of offense.
People may point to the wins, currently tied for sixth in the NHL as proof-positive that Martins system works. It’s not. Had it not been for Carey Price not only bouncing back this season but being a top 10 goalie in the NHL and top five for the first quarter of the year, the 25th ranked offense would only be good enough for 10-12th in the standings.
Martins system costs wins
Simply put, if Carey Price was just good this team would be just a few points away from a draft lottery pick, the exact same place they were last year as trade deadline day approached and the primary reason is an over-commitment to defense at the expense of offense, and it’s costing the Habs wins.
Despite more victories this year, the Habs are on pace to score just one more goal than last season which ranked their offense 26th. This season that puts their offense 24th and no team currently holds a playoff spot with fewer goals scored.
Martin didn’t or couldn’t install a puck-possession system in Montreal and part of that is a lack of sizable players who can win enough puck battles along the boards to retain possession and maintain pressure in the offensive zone, especially in front of the net and in the slot.
Even strength play matters
The Habs are ranked ninth in 5-on-5 ratio but sit 24th in actually scoring goals 5-on-5. Again, goaltending and defense have elevated the ratio and masked the inability to score goals at even strength where 65 per cent of the game is played and where a full two thirds of all goals are scored.
To fully appreciate the situation, it helps to comprehend what Carey Price said recently about how it’s easy for him to play goal when the team is able for force shooters to the perimeter. Indeed it is. The Habs sixth ranked goals against average has limited opponents to an average of just eight scoring chances per game from the front of the net or slot.
Not only are the Canadiens also being limited to just eight scoring chances from the same piece of real estate, it’s taken 20 per cent more shots from the perimeter to get those prime chances. In short, opposing teams are doing a far better job forcing the Habs to the outside than their own sixth ranked defense, to the point where 72 per cent of their shots are low percentage attempts. In contrast, the Carey Price is pleased 64 per cent of the shots he faces come from the perimeter.
The lack of a sustained volume of quality shots 5-on-5 has ultimately hurt the Habs and part of reason is too many peripheral players and too few who are big or mobile enough to win board battles and go to the net and stay there. Beyond Max Pacioretty, the only other player willing to regularly park himself in front of the net is 34-year old Mathieu Darche, who gets just eleven minutes of ice time per game. Players like Gionta will dart in and out for rebounds and tips but they can’t stay in the paint or block the view of opposing goaltenders.
Chris Nilan spoke on-air with Team 990’s Mitch Melnick on Thursday before the Canadiens hosted the Islanders and had this to say about the Habs 5-on-5 play:
“With a team like that… again with its smaller guys, and the premium guys like that, Gionta, Gomez, Cammalleri… guys like that, you definitely have to have a cast of characters around there that could protect them and be there and play a physical game, not only to protect them and to be there for them but so you can score goals 5-on-5. They can’t score goals 5-on-5 because they don’t have the size.
You know, if they score off the rush, fine but they’re not going to score off the dump and regain control of the puck and then make plays at the net. It’s just not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. The odd time it will. You know, they might get lucky, there could be a defensive breakdown in the offensive zone by the defensive team.”
Passive offense negatively impacts the power play
Because Martin’s Habs are being forced to the perimeter, unlike his teams in Ottawa and Florida, his current system of a passive offense based on transition and turnovers has exposed it’s key weakness. That style of play doesn’t force opposing teams into taking a lot of penalties, particularly hooking, holding and tripping calls that a pressure game forces opponents to take more often. The Canadiens currently rank 18th in total power play opportunities and are on pace for 291, a 30 PP improvement over last year’s 30th ranked team so while there’s been some progress, it’s not nearly enough to compensate for the lack of production 5-on-5.
If Jacques Martin won’t or can’t alter his system to increase 5-on-5 goal scoring and force teams into taking enough penalties to make them top 10 in PP opportunities, the stress on Carey Price and the defense to squeeze more blood from the stone and tighten up even more is an unrealistic expectation. It also shifts far too much responsibility onto the power play to make up the difference against Cup contending teams who on average limit opposing teams to a 15 per cent success rate, or worse.
One can’t help but notice the attacking style Guy Boucher has implemented in Tampa Bay has forced opponents into giving the Lightning the second most power play opportunities in the NHL while being able to capitalize on the volume of chances to be ranked third in PP goals scored. Even their 5-on-5 play has steadily improved once they found a goalie who could stop a beach ball.
That said, Jacques Martin does deserve a sizable chunk of credit for the defensive play of the Habs but his over-commitment to that aspect of the game has negatively impacted the Canadiens ability to generate offense and ultimately that has and will cost them wins, turning the Stanley Cup winning recipe upside down in the process.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)