All Habs Hockey Magazine is proud to provide a platform for guest writers to express their views on important issues. Today, we present a piece examining the Canadiens system, the impact of Carey Price and outlook for the playoffs. Your comments are welcome.

(Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

by Corey Desormeaux , Guest Contributor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

NEPEAN, ON. — For weeks it seems Habs fans have been debating which of the Bruins, Senators or Capitals is the preferable first round opponent for their beloved team.  However, heading into Thursday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings and with two games remaining, it could be none of those teams.  In fact, if the playoffs were to start today, the Habs would have a first round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  But, does it really matter who the Canadiens play in the first round if they don’t adjust their style of play?

The Canadiens defensive approach and risk-adverse dump and chase tactics, have given fans quite a bit to groan about this year. But the fact of the matter is Montreal has been near the top of the standings all season long and currently leads the league in goals against. Are the standings indicative of the team’s system or of Carey Price’s legendary season?

Carey Price has proven with his play that he can lead this team. Sitting at the top of all four major goaltending statistics (GAA, SV%, Wins, Shutouts) he is a clear choice for the Vezina Trophy and most believe the Hart Trophy as well.   There’s risk in playing a system that relies on a goaltender too much, even if your goalie is Carey Price.  So, how much do the Canadiens rely on Carey Price? A lot.

Corsi is becoming an increasingly popular analytic to portray a teams possessions numbers which helps us understand the way a team controls play.  It is a calculation of shots plus shot attempts that missed the net plus blocked shot attempts.  As per war-on-ice.com, Montreal ranks 26th in Even Strength Corsi Against per 60 minutes of play.  That means Montreal has been allowing its opponents to take a lot of shot attempts against them in comparison to other teams.

Another possession indicator is where a team takes it face-offs.  A team that takes most of its face-offs in the defensive zone is more likely to surrender a greater number of shots.  The Habs rank 4th in Even Strength Defensive Zone Face-Off Percentage (DZFO%), which means the team takes more face-offs in its own end then 25 other teams.  Furthermore, Montreal only takes 30.1 per cent of even strength face-offs in the offensive zone, which puts them at 25th in the league.

Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?  Giving up shot attempts is one thing, but are the Habs giving up scoring chances?  The term “scoring chances” is loosely defined and widely used, so for the purpose of this article and beyond, let’s agree to this definition described by WAR On Ice.

Basically, the definition describes a scoring chances as:

  • In the low danger zone, unblocked rebounds and rush shots only.
  • In the medium danger zone, all unblocked shots.
  • In the high danger zone, all shot attempts

K? Good.

The Habs rank 24th in Even Strength Scoring Chances For and Scoring Chances Against Differential with an abysmal rating of minus-143.

In the month of March alone, the Habs Even Strength Scoring Chances Differential was an alarming minus-75. The chart below shows where some potential playoff matchup’s differentials looked like in March.

Team Even Strength Scoring Chances Differential – March
Pittsburgh 56
Ottawa 57
Detroit 44
Washington 36
Tampa Bay 16
Boston -3
Montreal -75

Now lets be clear, these analytics aren’t perfect, but they do help tell the story of play and somewhat re-confirm Montreal’s label as a defensive team.  For a team with a ton of speed and a defensive core with puck-moving defencemen like P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu and Tom Gilbert, it seems that the team doesn’t control the puck all that much and the team may need to adjust its strategy to have success in the playoffs.

Carey Price has proven time and time again this year that he can take this team as far as he wants to, but if the trend in March continues he will have one heck of a task in front of him throughout the playoffs.  Let’s see if the Habs can take these last two games to make the necessary adjustments and give Carey the support he deserves.

My thoughts from the weekend

  • Since his arrival, Marc Bergevin has talked about character and it has shown throughout various stages of the season and it did once again this weekend. Coming off a loss Friday to the Devils and heading in on Easter Sunday to play the Florida Panthers, a team with no playoff hopes, the Habs brought it.  It would have been easy for the Canadiens to put in a lack-luster effort, but their desire to win was evident throughout the entire game.  Let’s see who steps up with Max Pacioretty not playing for the next two games.
  • Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller have really ramped things up, Eller more so over the last few weeks, Gallagher over the past few games.
  • P.A. Parenteau seems to have found his legs. He seems more comfortable with the speed of play and is having more fun out there.  Could be partly because of the beauty he scored.
  • When Devante Smith-Pelly buried his first as a Hab you could literally see the weight lift off of his shoulders and you could hear the sigh of relief amongst Habs fans and the organization. He is a proven player in the playoffs, why not start a few games early?
  • How much fun was it to watch Smith-Pelly the rest of the game? He was smiling and laughing on the bench.  Anyone else notice the bromance between Parenteau and Smith-Pelly?  It will be interesting to see if Michel Therrien keeps them together with Desharnais, my money is on that.
  • X – John Fontana

    You have an error in your post:

    Unless both wild card teams come form the same division, the wild card teams will face their respective division’s #1 seed. As of today, Pittsburgh plays the Rangers in the first round, Boston would face Montreal.

    If Pittsburgh gets bounced from contention, the Ottawa Senators would play the New York Rangers because the Rangers have a better record than the Habs (or Tampa Bay for that matter if they won the division).

    • Your information is incorrect, John. The division winner with the best record in the conference (New York Rangers) meets the wild card team with the poorer record (Boston Bruins.) The wild card team with the better record (Pittsburgh Penguins) faces the other division winner (Montreal Canadiens.) That information was correct at the time of writing and remains true after the completion of Wednesday night’s games.

      Thanks for reading All Habs Hockey Magazine.

    • Corey Desormeaux

      Cool, thanks for the clarification. I was using the NHL.com Drive to the Playoffs standings which still indicates the Habs playing Pittsburgh.

  • Mark Nye

    I do not get caught -up in all this analytic crap old fashion hockey dictates here period .
    Habs need to develop a better transition game of late as they are getting bogged down by the other teams offensive pressure .
    All five players must take part in a quick pass out of your zone to make transition play much easier .
    Hockey is a team sport & all five (5) players must take part in their own zone & the D to pinch when the situation dictates in the offensive zone .
    Blocked shots need to be effective on the outer perimeter & allow Price only the initial shot/save then all five sit in the house & dis-allow second & third attempts .
    The PP & PK need more attention as well keeping it simple is the best route shoot more & think less .
    Net front presence is a real concern for me or lack there of as Habs players are allowing the goalie to see far too much of the play .
    I like to keep it simple & allow Defence play to take over when chaos ensues .
    I think the Habs will do fine come play-off time as ole fashioned defensive minded play will take hold & the Habs will frustrate their opponents time & time again.
    Go Habs Go !!!

    • Corey Desormeaux

      Thanks for your input Mark. I agree with some of what you’re saying. Especially your points about their transition game out of their own end. I do believe the analytics help us understand a teams tendencies and can validate assumptions about a teams system.

  • layvack .

    What Montreal lacked all year was the PP. The habs had their best season for quite some time even without it, which there are less off in the playoffs.

    Teams that trive on the power play in the series suffer a bit more because of the lack of PP. Plus season=offence and playoffs=defense, in others words Montreal is quite prepared for the playoffs, they played defense all year and had a rotten PP.

    A lot a times, power play in the playoffs is contrary to the season, that’s why I’m not worried about the series.