If you’re anything like me, you had trouble sleeping last night following the outrageously horrific effort against the Senators. I broke a pen and littered my bedroom floor with chips at one point. I wasn’t pleased, as I presume most of you weren’t. Arguably the one and only bright spot was Team Canada’s starting goaltender Carey Price. Absolutely sensational.
Given that I was well aware I’d be awake for an extended period of time after Subban buried the game-winner in overtime, I thought I’d compare the Canadiens’ 48-game season last year to the first 48 games this season.
Here’s a quick glance at the basics:
Through 48 games things look to nearly be the complete opposite in each category. At first glance, the Canadiens look to be better defensively but worse offensively this season compared to last. Montreal’s shot differential last season was +3.7 shots per game, whereas it’s at a -1.5 shots per game this year; a swing of -5.2 shots/game. The unimpressive 28.5 shots/game this season places Montreal 23rd in the NHL – they averaged 30.6 last season ranking them 9th.
Their regulation + overtime wins is still quite respectable. It’s certainly something that’s in the Habs’ favour come tiebreak time.
The special teams have improved drastically from a penalty killing perspective. I’m going to attribute that to Carey Price’s drastic improvement from his abysmal .804 SV% last season to the current .896 SV%. Price’s .092 shorthanded SV% hike was the largest improvement among starting goalies from last season to this season. Nabokov led the way with the furthest drop off; his SH SV% dropped .114 from last season, while Anderson’s .112 SH SV% drop is a close second.
Meanwhile, the powerplay has staggered along recently but still remains a mere 1.3% off last season’s pace. Though, that meager reduction drops them nearly 5 ranks in the NHL. After 48 games last season the Habs had 203 powerplay opportunities to their 165 this season. Montreal scored 10 more PP goals last season than they have thus far.
Let’s delve a little deeper now. I’d suggest getting a little more comfortable and maybe taking a quick break to grab some water.
Our beloved Canadiens are giving up an incredibly high volume of shot attempts (Corsi) against this season. Besides games 8, 34 and 38 last season, the shot attempts against were very manageable. It seems as though this year manageable has taken on a whole new meaning.
The 2013 Canadiens’ Corsi against (CA) was 1895 after 48 games. The 2014 edition is at 2288 through 48. The worst CA at 5v5 last season was the incomprehensibly good Toronto Maple Leafs. They managed a stellar 50.9 shot attempts against per game; admittedly Montreal’s not far off that this year. Last season’s average of 39 shot attempts against is a far cry from the 48 the Habs surrender this year. The game-to-game variance is ridiculously fascinating this season, especially during games 15-22.
Given that Montreal’s surrendering this many more shot attempts against this season, it’s no wonder they’re ahead of the rest of the NHL by 78 blocked shots. And that isn’t a good category to be leading in.
It’s been swirling around everywhere that Therrien simply isn’t being smart about his player usage or gameplan (no disrespeck). He’s implementing a system that’s ill-suited to the makeup of the Canadiens’ roster. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, we’ve all allegedly seen it. This dump & half-chase nonsense isn’t exactly the way to generate offense with a smaller forward corps. Especially given how dominate of a possession club they were last season. When one player, three players, even five players are struggling, that’s on those players; when the entire team is struggling, that’s all on da coach.
As you might have expected, Montreal’s Corsi for (CF) is down this season as well, and it’s been gradually getting worse as the season progresses. They began this season pretty much where they left off last season, which was really encouraging. It wasn’t until around game 23 that I noticed a complete lack of possession. Douglas Murray began playing more regularly around that point, too. I’m just incoherently throwing that out there.
This season’s Habs’ CF is at 2001 – down 126 shot attempts from last season. Montreal carried a CF/G average of 44.31 into the playoffs, and after 48 games this year they’re at 41.69. It doesn’t look like a huge difference, however over an 82-game schedule this season’s edition is on pace to take 214.84 less shot attempts. That’s simply not good enough.
In my opinion, the most important facet of a game is the percentage of unblocked shots for at 5v5 when the game is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods (Fenwick Close). In that respect, Montreal’s game-by-game FenClose has also progressively gotten worse as the season wears on. That’s a real problem. 3 of the last 6 games have been indisputably disastrous.
This roster isn’t one that should only be registering 48.1% (22nd overall) of the unblocked shots. I refuse to believe it after the spectacular 53.6% (8th place) last year. I mean, that 5.5% drop in FenClose is the largest of any NHL team from last season to this one. The Islanders dropped 4.4% and are next in line. Does the addition of Briere, Parros and Murray make that big of a difference? Even though I’d like to think so, they don’t.
Let’s circle back to Therrien and his system now.
I’ve spoken with a lot of fans over a multitude of social media platforms and the overwhelming consensus is that Montreal is attempting this chip-and-chase offense far, far too often. Zone entry data has become more predominant among the analytics crowd over the past 2 years, and it’s been proven rather well that the results when entering the opposition’s zone with possession exceed those of entering via dump and chase. If you haven’t yet, you should really give this article about zone entries a look, it’s a good read.
After Montreal’s pitiful performance against the Devils on January 14th, I decided that I’d be tracking zone entries myself for Canadiens games; not only for but also against.
So, along comes the wicked fun game we all watched on January 16th against the Senators. I’m upset I didn’t PVR it so I could watch it over and over again – just poetry in motion out there.
I considered a dump and chase a fail if the Canadiens didn’t retrieve controlled possession after the initial dump and before the puck was cleared out of Ottawa’s zone. I ignored dump-ins if the sole purpose was a change of personnel. I considered a controlled entry (carry-in) a fail if it was broken up at the line (or just inside) or if it was offside. I ignored special teams play as well, this is strictly even strength. I ignored post-offensive zone faceoffs as well. For example: Gallagher carries it in, registers a shot on goal and Anderson covers for a whistle. I didn’t continue tracking the shots on goal after the faceoff as a part of Gallagher’s carry-in. I understand this is just one game, but it’s all I have to go on at the moment.
A mere 51.25% of the Habs’ entries were controlled. That simply isn’t going to benefit them when 54% of the dump-in attempts failed. Across the board, dump-ins didn’t dictate success. Though, I was surprised that the amount of carries actually exceeded that of the dumps. As often as I’ve lightly tapped my head against a wall after a failed dump and chase, I would have thought the number of attempts would be a lot higher.
Here were the zone entries against…
I’ll give you a few minutes if you need it.
I simply just tracked which side of the ice the entry occurred on and it went against that defenseman. It isn’t ideal, but it’s something.
The Senators had over 20 more attempted zone entries, and the majority of those were controlled ones. Smart. 58.3% of the attempted entries were carry-ins. Ottawa also managed a whopping 0.24 shot/entry more than Montreal. Essentially every 2nd controlled entry they managed a shot on goal; not just a shot attempt, something Price had to actually stop.
The consistent here is that both the Sens and Habs failed far more often in the dump and chase attempts than the controlled attempts. Again, it’s one game, but it makes complete sense – especially with a smaller team like Montreal.
To sum up: Montreal’s playing a lot worse than I expected and worse than last season. They’re not all that surprisingly in a playoff spot given how poor the East is.
All of this and the Canadiens are a mere 4 points off their pace from last season. That’s it. 4 points. 2 wins. That’s it. 4 shootout losses. That’s all. Bizarro World indeed.
I believe we should all be really thankful they are where they are. And I believe now would be the time for Therrien to alter a few glaringly obvious things. Otherwise, I can see him sitting beside me at a Habs playoff game while Guy Boucher (or whoever) coaches this magnificently enigmatic team to a Stanley Cup obviously a lengthy playoff run that includes Murray in the pressbox.
By all means, follow me on Twitter @CurtisAATH