If I Was Michel Therrien for a Game

“How can I confuse people even more…”
Courtesy of the Montreal Gazette

The stress of being an NHL coach is probably immeasurable; especially if it’s a job patrolling the Montreal Canadiens’ bench. This fan base is relentless. It’s also bilingual – he likely gets it twice as bad as other unilingual teams. Thankfully, I don’t know much French, so it wouldn’t be so bad for me.

Though, you wouldn’t think it was entirely stressful if you took one peek at Therrien during 95% of each game. Regardless of the score, the opponent, the in-game situation, what he had for breakfast, his cholesterol level, you’ll find him primarily positioned like this:

“Not sure what I should be doing at the moment.”
Courtesy of The Hockey Writers

That vintage leaning-on-one-knee-cupping-chin-with-left-hand-staring-mindlessly-at-one-end-of-the-ice look. We all know it too well. He looks pretty relaxed; he looks like he gives precisely zero “effs”. I guess there’s no reason to be all up-in-arms considering the mighty Canadiens are playoff-bound. Right?

Just for fun, let’s pretend that the entire coaching staff played hooky and flew to Jamaica on game-day, the rest of the world was deaf besides the players, Douglas Murray didn’t want the job and you were the only one left capable of taking over. Would you make any changes to this lineup? Would you continue this crusade of implementing a mixed bag of systems each game? Would you actually attempt to adjust on-the-fly? Would you have your own iconic “Does it look like I care that much?” stance? I know what I’d do.

LINEUP CHANGES

The first thing I’d do is pay for two more tickets so Bouillon and Murray could fly out there with the coaches. Next, I’d punch out Alain Vigneault and Glen Sather and take Diaz back. Though, I’d probably be charged, so I suppose we’ll accept that Diaz is gone forever. Let’s assume Gorges is back from his injury.

Gorges-Subban
Markov-Emelin
Beaulieu-Weaver 

I’d swap Beaulieu and Gorges every now and then to see what the kid can bring when given premium minutes. It would also create a pretty solid shutdown defensive pairing in Gorges and Weaver and a devastating offensive, puck-moving pairing in Subban and Beaulieu, which may allow for P.K. to be used in an even greater offensive role at even strength while remaining fully comfortable with giving Gorges/Weaver the majority of the defensive zone starts.

Currently, Subban’s 4th in terms of the highest percentage of non-neutral zone shifts beginning in the offensive zone – Tinordi, Murray, and Beaulieu are ahead of him with Bouillon a mere .1% less – but I’m sure everyone is aware of Gorges’ and Bouillon’s lack of offensive upside. While they’re certainly serviceable offensively, they don’t exactly have that flare that Beaulieu brings.

Markov and Emelin are Markov and Emelin. They seem to love playing with one another through thick and thin and I’m certain when they are speaking Russian to each other, they’re chirping Therrien and whichever analyst is between the benches. No one knows for sure, but I have a hunch. Markov seems like a silently hilarious fellow.

I know, I know…“Where’s Tinordi?!”

For the time being, while Weaver is playing some solid, solid hockey, I think Tinordi should play for the ‘Dogs. It would be a lot better if Hamilton was going to the playoffs because I believe a run in the AHL could do wonders for him. Weaver’s a UFA after this season and then Tinordi can be brought in and given a regular shift. I’m also a huge fan of puck-moving defensemen, and Beaulieu tops Tinordi in that aspect. I’d prefer an above-average PMD on each pairing (Subban, Markov, Beaulieu). I know, that slightly contradicts my wanting to pair 40-76 occasionally, but let’s pretend you didn’t catch that, mmkay? Extenuating circumstances here.

Let’s assume for the forward corps that everyone’s healthy.

Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Gionta
Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher
Vanek-Eller-Briere
Moen-Prust-Weise

I need you all to settle down, right now. I know you just read those trios and threw your bowl of Froot Loops at the floor.

I’d replace Weise with Bournival here and there. I really like Bournival but he suffered a concussion and hasn’t played much this season, so he may not entirely be in the swing of things; he has looked energetic and ferocious recently though.

I need Gionta back with Plekanec. It just has to happen. Those two, flanked by Mr. Doesn’t Matter, played such a spectacular two-way game and stymied the opposition so, so often. Given the current makeup of Therrien’s roster, they lack a shutdown trio. Thankfully he’s in Jamaica so he has no say in this. Galchenyuk needs to improve his defensive game, and who better to learn from than a guy who epitomizes two-way play but has inexplicably never received a 1st place Selke vote? If I could model a player after anyone in the Habs’ organization, it’s Plekanec. I like to believe that Chucky will have no choice but to improve defensively while receiving ice with two responsible players.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. It’s time to get serious for a minute. Buckle up.

I’m removing Vanek from Pacioretty-Desharnais and reuniting the 67-51-11 line.

20-51-67 has been mediocre overall. I love Vanek and I like the line, but they’re nearly a complete 180 from Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher. This line is giving up far more than it’s generating and it will come back to haunt them. The production they’ve accounted for is masking very obvious awful hockey. You never saw that from Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher; if you did, it didn’t last 3 games, let alone 10 games.

People need to try to understand percentages, trends, probability, variation, regression, sustainability etc. There’s a reason that most players’ shooting percentages stay relatively the same year-to-year. Since Vanek joined on, Montreal’s shooting percentage (sh%) is 2% higher than their season average (would rank them 2nd in the entire NHL) and higher than it’s been in years. Vanek doesn’t suddenly turn Montreal into a goal-scoring dynamo. 2% is a huge jump for an NHL team. That type of variation can happen over, for instance, a small sample of 10 games. But it won’t continue. Pacioretty is currently shooting 10% higher than his career average while playing alongside Vanek. That’s insane and the probability of that continuing over a large sample is slim to none (it’s actually none).

While on-ice, this line is receiving stud goaltending at even strength – I’m talking league-leading insane numbers. Vanek has a 5v5 on-ice save percentage (SV%) of over .950. That’s unheard of over an entire season. It will regress; perhaps a lot. PDO is essentially a luck-driven statistic. It combines SV% and sh% into a number. This has proven to be effective in predicting whether a player/team is going through some misfortune and is due for a breakout, or has experienced good luck and is due for a “slump”. 100.0 for all intents and purposes is average. The variation between the best PDO in the NHL to the worst for teams in an entire season is always very marginal. It fluctuates in smaller samples and there’s more variation for players rather than teams, but eventually over time it will typically regress or improve to the mean (100.0). Unless you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs and apply wizardry to NHL seasons.

This season:
Best – 102.6
Worst – 98.2

2011-2012 season:
Best – 101.5
Worst – 97.9

2012-2013 season:
Best – 103.2
Worst – 96.5

You can see the larger gap when the season’s cut short. It’s easier to “maintain” luck over a shorter period of time. It’s as simple as flipping a coin – heads could appear 16 of the first 20 flips. But the likelihood of heads appearing at a rate of 80% over 2000 flips is extremely small.

Right now Vanek has a 108.5 PDO. It’s 104.4 on the season. While PDO isn’t a perfect science when it comes to players, it still applies. That number will begin to regress, it’s darn near inevitable. I pray it doesn’t happen in the playoffs.

The way this new line is playing is bound to come to a crushing halt. They’re essentially at the extreme end of both spectrums (SV% and sh%). That isn’t good. It’s pretty much downhill from there. And considering what they’re giving up on a game-to-game basis, the slope down could be drastic.

I’ve outlined in red the proclaimed “dangerous scoring opportunity” area. Here is Montreal’s even strength shots and goals for with Vanek on-ice (click to enlarge):

The #1 team in the NHL in terms of even strength shooting percentage is the Ducks at 9.6%. With Vanek on-ice, Montreal’s shooting 12%. Can you say, “I predict a major regression”? I can.

Here’s Montreal’s even strength shots and goals against with Vanek on-ice (click to enlarge):

The #1 team in the NHL in terms of even strength save percentage is the Bruins at .940%. With Vanek on-ice, Montreal’s save percentage is .951%. Can you say, “I predict a regression”? I can.

It’s obvious that the Habs are being bailed out by Price (as has been nearly the entire season with every line) with this line on the ice.

The trio is getting scoring opportunities (which they should given the three players in question), but their success rate is way higher than is realistically possible to sustain, and it isn’t as if Montreal has been blowing teams out during this stretch. Meanwhile, they’re giving up more prime scoring opportunities than they’re generating – and this doesn’t even take into account shots from the prime areas that miss the net or are blocked (and they’re being destroyed in shot-attempts against).

I’ll leave it like this: I can’t say the line isn’t productive in the scoring categories, but I can say (and prove with ridiculous validity) that this line is being outplayed each game while Price makes sure nothing tickles twine. When that catches up with them and their inflated sh% drops…I don’t even want to think about that. No seriously, I don’t, so don’t bother asking.

If you want to evaluate how effective the line’s been, you can’t base that evaluation off of production in the points column alone. It’s wrong. They’ve been mediocre overall. And I believe Montreal’s been average this season.

Here’s Gallagher’s even strength shots and goals for while on-ice with Pacioretty (click to enlarge):

Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher was a much more effective line overall. No one complained about this line’s production because they generated a lot more in spite of the efficiency rating – and they were consistently effective game-in and game-out. They seemingly always out-possessed their opponent and their success rate was perfectly sustainable. Therrien essentially split up an effective line both offensively and defensively to form an offensively effective but defensively disastrous line.

Congratulations to the new trio on their ability to score over the past 10+ games, but it isn’t as impressive given how much of a mess they are in the d-zone and how often they’re being out-played.

I’m placing Vanek with Eller and Briere for a couple reasons. Eller deserves a proven scorer. He’ll get the 2nd toughest starts behind Plekanec and should be able to handle that despite his linemates’ lack of defensive awareness. Briere kind of reminds me of me in beer league. I float near the play but don’t actually engage. You can’t tell me I’m not “in the play”, I’m right there! I’d like to see if there’s something there between Briere and Vanek as well. Pacioretty seems to require little to no TOI to score. Has he scored from the bench yet? So it’s more than okay for Therrien to spread out the offensive TOI between these two lines, and generally roll 4 lines effectively. 4-line hockey will win you hockey games in a playoff series.

“SYSTEM” ALTERATION

Frankly, I’m tired of Therrien’s crazy, random, confusing style. Are you a dump and chase team? Are you a possession team? Are you just thoughtlessly swinging your sticks at the puck?

Montreal’s game is tailored to a transition, rush style as far as I’m concerned. In a carry vs. dump situation, I’m pounding a carrying game plan into my players’ heads. Even you, Dale Weise. I believe dumping and chasing should be nearly a last resort if you have no other play.

Therrien seemingly goes back and forth between games. Either he still isn’t sure which would be most effective or he flips a coin each morning. He also doesn’t adjust match-ups, TOI etc on the fly. It’s as if he truly believes whatever he begins the game with, he must finish the game with, otherwise he’s doubting himself.

I question his TOI distribution often, and I definitely hate what he encourages – dump it in, dump it out, which is apparently “safe” hockey, even though that’s deliberately allowing the opposition to reset – and what he punishes – creativity.

 ICONIC BENCH POSE

I’ve been mulling over this for a while. I don’t know how appropriate it is to sit in a rocking chair back there, but that was my first thought.

I thought maybe I’d carry a goal stick around behind the bench and try to reinvent Dryden’s legendary pose.

“I run the show.”
Courtesy of Canadiens.com

I’ve settled on an infielder’s approach.

My pose behind the bench would correlate with the game’s situation. If the puck’s in the neutral zone, I’m at ease standing up straight; maybe lightly kicking a puck around in my feet while I stare at the floor. If it’s in either end, I’m in a crouched position like I’m ready to pick up a ground ball and throw out the already-injured Jose Reyes (for those of you who are Blue Jays fans). I think I’d quickly make a name for myself.

It seems as though these changes are obvious. Aren’t they? But they elude Therrien more often than not. It’s a wonder how our beloved Canadiens are where they are, and I believe the majority of that credit goes to Carey Price.

 

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Curtis Kinden (21 Posts)

Born in 1988. Grew up a die hard Habs fan and Jays fan. Outstanding shortstop and a great breakfast cook. Sarcasm comes naturally. Follow me on Twitter @CurtisAATH


One Response to If I Was Michel Therrien for a Game

  1. Money-puck — when you put it like that it seems simple.

    Very clever article.

    Michael April 4, 2014 at 7:17 am Reply

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