With the NHL playoffs just around the corner, the time has come to analyse the Canadiens’ season and try to determine what the team needs to do in hope to make any noise heading into the important season.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, following a Cinderella run in last year’s playoffs, the expectations were high for the Canadiens and so were the hopes of taking the next step. The loss of Glen Metropolit was compensated with the acquisition of Jeff Halpern, and everyone was excited to see what kind of impact young Lars Eller, the key player acquired in return for Jaroslav Halak, would have on the team. Subban had shown what he could do, Andrei Markov was coming back healthy, both helping solidify Montreal’s defensive core.
But there were also question marks. Pierre Gauthier made a very bold decision in trading away last year’s hero Jaroslav Halak and signed seasoned veteran Alex Auld as a clear backup, ending once and for all the goaltending controversy. But how would Price perform under new goaltenders’ coach Pierre Groulx and with no competition? Gauthier also didn’t address what many felt was one of the Habs’ biggest needs: grit, toughness and size.
It didn’t take long before the team suffered its first major blow, after Andrei Makov re-injured his knee and soon after came the announcement that his season was over. In fact, three of the Canadiens top 4 defensemen, Markov (7), Gorges (36) and Spacek (59) won’t have reached the 60 games plateau this season! Michael Cammalleri missed several games and many insiders say that he’s still not healthy. Gionta has also played a big part of the season not at 100%. The one saving grace: Carey Price managed to avoid injuries!
Through all of that, the Canadiens finished with a record of 44-30-8 for 96 points. This record puts them 2nd in the Northeast division, 7 points behind the Boston Bruins. It’s also good enough to place them 6th in the Eastern conference (7 points behind 5th place Tampa Bay) and 14th overall.
Let’s break it down even further, by comparing the nuts and bolts against other teams.
The second period has been the period where the Canadiens scored the most goals (86) but the third period is when they’ve allowed the most goals (72). They’ve outscored their opponents 66-64 in the first period, 86-65 in the second, and were out-performed in the third period by a 56-72 margin. Along the same lines, the team had a 25-2-3 record when leading after one period, and 30-1-5 when leading after two. In comparison, they didn’t fare so well when trailing after one period of play with a 4-22-1 record, and even worse when trailing after two, at 1-27-2. Further, when the team scored first, they did very well with a 32-6-6 record. They didn’t do as well when allowing the first goal at 12-24-2.
So when the Canadiens score the first goal of the game, they have won 73% of their games, while only winning 31% of their games when allowing the first goal! If they had the lead after one period, they have won almost 83% of their games while winning only 15% of the games where they trailed after one. Further, they have also won 83% of the game when leading after two periods, but only won 3% when trailing after 40 minutes. If you see that the totals don’t add up, it’s due to the overtime losses.
Discipline has been an issue this season for the Canadiens and once again, Kirk Muller has proven his worth along with Perry Pearns, as the special teams have been a huge contributor to the Habs’ success during the regular season. Their 363 minor penalties was second most in the entire NHL, and their 14 bench minors lead the NHL.
Your penalty kill is only as good as your goaltender and Carey Price was absolutely spectacular this season. Another important factor is that the team finished 3rd in the NHL in shots blocked.
GOALS FOR/GOALS AGAINST
Only the LA Kings have a weaker offense than the Habs, of the teams qualified for this year’s playoffs. The Canadiens scored on average 2.60 goals per game. In fact, only 7 teams in the entire NHL have scored fewer goals per game. Their saving grace is the fact that they finished the season with the 8th best goals against average at 2.51.
PROGNOSTIC FOR PLAYOFFS
The fact that the Canadiens are one of the least physical of the 16 teams qualified for the playoffs should represent a big challenge. But if the regular season is any indication, here is what should be the game plan, the indicators if the Habs want to have any success:
- Score first. In doing so, they have roughly 73% chances of winning
- Head into the dressing room with the lead after the first, but mostly at the second intermission. Your percentage of winning will jump to 83%.
- Be disciplined. Avoid the bench minors and stay out of the penalty box. While the penalty killing units are very effective, they also take a lot of energy from the team’s top offensive guys who happen to also kill penalties, energy that they won’t have to attack. Penalties also kill the team’s momentum.
- Be opportunistic on the powerplay. Take shots from the point with Wisniewski and Subban, and park someone in front of the net to create havoc and make the goaltender’s job more difficult.
- Limit the damage in the third period, the only period where the Canadiens have been outscored all season. Don’t take your foot off the gas not matter what.
- Protect Carey Price as he’s the team’s only hope to any kind of success in those playoffs.
Of course, this isn’t a science that can’t be rebuffed by any means, but it does show a tendency over an 82 games schedule. It’s a cliché but it is one that is so true: toss the stats out the window as the playoffs are a totally different season.
GO HABS GO!!!
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