Underlying Numbers: A Season Review and Playoff Preview
Photo courtesy of awinninghabit.com
The excellent season has come to an end while some anxiety-filled weeks are sure to follow. Before we completely close the book on the 2013-2014 regular season, let’s take a look back and break it down.
The one metric I follow closely every season, all season long, is Fenwick Close – AKA FenClose. Check out AATH’s new glossary section if you’re unfamiliar with the term. It’s a statistic that’s been proven effective when predicting a team’s future success. It’s by no means the be-all end-all, but it’s effective nonetheless. The Montreal Canadiens finished 22nd in this metric on the year. They topped only a mere two playoff-bound teams (Philadelphia and Colorado) and finished slightly behind another (Minnesota) at 48.4%. Last season, the Habs closed the regular season out with the 8th best Fenwick Close (53.6%). Here are their ranks in some other notable advanced statistics (I’ve bracketed their rank from last season - click to enlarge):
The contrast is absolutely insane. The shocking part of that is the complete and utter drop off when they’re trailing, which isn’t a good thing at all. Extrapolated, the Canadiens essentially spent an equivalent amount of time over 82 games trailing during 5v5 play as they did in the shortened 48-game schedule. One would assume that score effects would allow the Canadiens to manage a much better percentage of unblocked shots taken when trailing then just barely breaking 50%. Typically when you’re down, you up the pace a little and push to generate more. They were 8.8% worse this season than they were in 2012-2013 which was the greatest regression; the second largest drop was the Devils who fell off 5.1%. To put that into context: five NHL teams managed a higher shot attempt percentage while up by 2 or more goals at 5v5 than the Habs managed when trailing by any amount in a game. That’s kind of pathetic if you ask me. That’s more embarrassing than being scored on by Douglas Murray with Bob McKenzie and me being credited with assists.
On special teams, Montreal struggled on the powerplay. They struggled to convert, they struggled to create, they struggled to enter the zone. I mean, I don’t see how that could be considering Therrien’s bulletproof dump-and-chase game plan. It’s clear Carey Price was astonishing on the penalty kill this season. He was leaps and bounds better than I’ve ever seen him play. The underlying numbers suggest he faced less shots against, but had to deal with a lot more shot attempts (I’ve bracketed their rank from last season – click to enlarge):
Their powerplay threw more pucks at the net last season, and far more hit the net. One might suggest they were being “too fancy” this season. Or they simply didn’t have possession as often on the powerplay. It appeared as the season wore on, the Habs were less inclined to turn to Subban for his booming shot. Overall though he averaged 37.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes, up from his 34.0 shot attempts per 60 minuts on the powerplay last season. Both Gallagher and Galchenyuk’s PP CF/60 was down (Gallagher by 5.7 per 60) and Eller went from averaging the most PP P/60 to the second least (only ahead of Moen). T’was an extremely strange season for Larry.
On the penalty kill, the Canadiens limited their opponent’s shots well. They actually improved upon last year, though the concerning aspect is the CA/60 – it jumped 10 shot attempts against per 60 minutes. Discounting blocked shots, their FA/60 on the PK jumped 3.6. Thanks to Price’s jaw-dropping save percentages in every situation imaginable, it didn’t exactly seem as though Montreal was really giving up much more. The awful PK SV% last season really seemed to be Price’s downfall.
Thanks to Pacioretty and the acquisition of Vanek, the Habs had two players in the top 50 scoring. The same two combined to give the Habs two top 30 goal scorers, with Pacioretty finishing 4th. PK Subban cracked the top 20 in assists and the much maligned David Desharnais snuck into the top 50 with 36 assists (or apples for you folks that like the hockey lingo – or just like fruit a lot). Speaking of Desharnais, he finished the season off with his best sh% of his career and the 8th best among players who played 62 or more games – 16.7%. One more gino and he could have topped his career high in goals. Pacioretty took the 10th most shots in the entire NHL, firing 270 at opposing goaltenders. I’ll have to check, but I’m pretty sure he also led the league in cool celebrations. 14 defensemen averaged more TOI than Subban; one of them was Markov. He did play more per game than a guy I’d like to see with the Norris, Duncan Keith. I wonder how much was made of Keith’s TOI this past year.
I thought it would be interesting to break down the season into (more or less) thirds to see how the performance fluctuated throughout the year. I’ve reddened the worst percentage for each metric. (click to enlarge)
It’s pretty clear that the team was at its best (advanced metrics wise) in the first third of the season. Respectable numbers across the board, especially their ability to generate offense while trailing in games. I’m sure it’s only a coincidence that Murray missed the most time this season during that stretch.
It’s a bit of a toss-up for which third was the overall worst; I’m inclined to lean towards the middle third simply because they played horribly in all key situations – even strength, with the game tied, and with the game close. Surprisingly, the Habs were at their best in close game situations in the final third of the season. Which is rather ironic given how badly they were outplayed for the majority of the stretch run.
It’s interesting to note Montreal’s play with the lead and when trailing during that final third of the season. When the game is on the line, it seemed like the Habs came to play; if they had the lead (likely by 2 or more goals or in the third period) they were just absolutely throttled. This is expected when a team has the lead, which is why FenClose removes the score effects. Though, that 41.3% of the unblocked shot attempts is crazy low considering that would rank them 27th in the entire NHL (only Edmonton, Toronto and Buffalo finished with worse). When the Canadiens trailed in the game (again, likely by 2 or more considering their FenClose percentage) they all but “gave up” when it came to generating offense. This is another metric that is insanely low for a team heading into the playoffs (and a bit of concern) considering the 48.9% they managed in the last third of the season would sit them – you guessed it – ahead of only Edmonton, Toronto and Buffalo. Granted, Colorado hasn’t been much better possession wise, but they have been better.
You’d think adding a weapon like Vanek would only enable your team to create more, but that hasn’t exactly been the case. A bit of a wonderment. Also, very confusing.
Here’s a quick glance at Montreal’s best and worst this season
Top 5 possession games (5v5 Fenwick):
- 66.0% vs the Flyers
- 64.8% vs the Islanders
- 64.2% vs the Sabres
- 62.9% vs the Leafs
- 61.0% vs the Leafs
Bottom 5 possession games (5v5 Fenwick):
- 35.1% vs the Red Wings
- 34.4% vs the Islanders
- 33.3% vs the Senators
- 31.7% vs the Bruins
- 29.6% vs the Panthers
Top 5 shot totals (5v5):
- 32 vs the Canucks
- 32 vs the Leafs
- 30 vs the Senators
- 30 vs the Panthers
- 29 vs the Leafs
Bottom 5 shot totals (5v5):
- 13 vs the Kings
- 13 vs the Flyers
- 12 vs the Red Wings
- 11 vs the Panthers
- 5 vs the Bruins
Lowest shot totals against (5v5):
- 16 vs the Devils
- 16 vs the Islanders
- 15 vs the Senators
- 15 vs the Sabres
- 8 vs the Flyers
Highest shot totals against (5v5):
- 42 vs the Senators
- 36 vs the Canucks
- 35 vs the Lightning
- 32 vs the Senators
- 31 vs the Sharks
I put together a chart of the 16 playoff teams and their final possession numbers for this season. I’ve greened the top 5 in each statistical category, reddened the bottom 5 and bolded the best and worst: Bolded green being the best of the metric, bolded red being the worst.
I do this every season and hope to cherry pick a couple upsets in my fantasy leagues.
Just by sheer numbers:
- The Kings are Cup favourites.
- The Avalanche, Penguins and Ducks look ripe to be upset.
- One extremely good team is going home in the Blackhawks/Blues series, as well as the Kings/Sharks series.
- Montreal’s in trouble
The Canadiens are in the bottom 5 for every metric listed above and are statistically the worst among all playoff teams in even strength shot attempts for and unblocked shot attempts at 5v5 while trailing. The latter part of that scares me most. Stamkos has essentially been able to score at will throughout his entire career. If the Habs get behind in a game, it’ll likely be a really steep uphill battle. I can take comfort in knowing that the Lightning tend to go into a bit of a shell with the lead (specifically in the third).
In 4 games versus the Lightning this season: the Habs carry a 47.9% 5v5 FF% and a 47.3% FenClose%. At 5v5 with the score tied, Montreal’s at an abysmal 45.8%. Their possession numbers have been atrocious against Tampa this season, which doesn’t exactly bode well, although may drastically increase Carey Price’s career playoff numbers.
In a game where even strength play is the most important, the Canadiens have managed a mere 45.6% of the shots on goal – they’ve been outshot 106-89. This is in 4 games. 89 shots. In four games. That’s simply nowhere near good enough; I will not settle for Montreal being a club that relies so heavily on opportunistic scoring. Surprisingly, the Habs do have the even strength goal lead in those 4 games versus Tampa; they’ve outscored the Lightning 4-3.
Overall at evens this season against Tampa Bay, Montreal has registered a measly 45.2% of the shot attempts – outcorsied 207-171.
If I had to pick 5 things the Canadiens need to do to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning:
Convert with man advantage
To finish off the season, Montreal scored a grand total of 0 goals on the powerplay in 23 opportunities. That’s flat out unheard of. Their blueline consists of PK Subban. If I can be frank with you, that alone should lead to a successful powerplay. Even if he’s surrounded with the entire Sportsnet panel. Vanek was supposed to waltz in as some sort of powerplay God and yet he’s somehow negatively affected their success. The upside is that they were still winning, and the most important part of every single hockey game is a team’s play at evens.
The Lightning had an unflattering 80.7% efficiency on the PK during the regular season, and that included Ben Bishop. Montreal wasn’t spectacular on the PP, but 17.2% is respectable in my books. No Bishop. No powerplay struggles. If the Habs can convert even half-regularly in this series, it’ll be a huge leg up.
Take down Big Foot
These goalies are massive. Bishop stands at 6’7 and the Habs registered a meager 4 goals in as many games with him in the Lightning net. While Bishop’s injured, some really small goalie named Anders Lindback (who somehow managed to nab the NHL’s First Star of the final week) will man the net. He stands at a very generous six-foot…-six. He’s still pretty big. Everyone give the puck to Desharnais and let him do his patented shootout move five-hole. Thanks.
You can’t stop him completely. I don’t know how, but he always manages to find the very soft areas on the ice. Either Tampa consistently has too many men on the ice and no one recognizes it, or he’s just the sneakiest NHL player alive.
If it was up to me, I’d move the whole entire left defensive circle outside the blueline. Let’s see him set up there and score on a one-timer.
The Vanek/Briere Factor
I didn’t know who to choose.
Vanek is going to get an opportunity to play in front of the most electric fans this universe has to offer (in game 3). Until then, he’ll get to play in front of a building half-filled with the most electric fans this universe has to offer. I’d prefer it if he’d stop making blind, through-the-legs, one-handed passes with his helmet over his eyes and start using that inexplicably hard half-slap shot more. He has a lethal shot, and he’s the Canadiens’ newest addition, who was essentially acquired strictly for this playoff run.
Briere is Briere. I presume he’ll play with Plekanec and Gionta. I presume he’ll get his share of opportunities. I presume he’ll score a million goals. While the latter may not be true, this is the time for him to shine. This is the time everyone in the entire world said he’d pay off most. Time to put your stick where the puck is and… score. Or something. No pressure though, kid.
This topic has exhausted me throughout the season, so I don’t even know what I have left to say about it.
Therrien needs to learn to line match. He needs to learn to use that last change to his advantage. He needs to refrain from getting caught with the 4th line and 3rd pairing out there. He needs to learn to adjust on the fly. He needs to use Subban as much as he possibly can. He needs to let the boys play, and not stick to some outdated dump-and-chase trash. He needs to sit Murray and Bouillon. Very straightforward. Otherwise, he needs to let me coach.
Here’s a few things that will likely happen that won’t surprise me :
- Therrien not using a timeout
- Dale Weise on Tomas Plekanec’s wing
- Murray over Mr. Anyone Else
- Montreal being outshot drastically
- Bouillon receiving powerplay time
- PK not on the PK
- Bourque receiving powerplay time
- A Carey Price shutout
- Habs fans being louder than Lightning fans
- The Montreal Canadiens winning in 5
I’ll admit I’m not the most confident at all. But with Ben Bishop out, it eases my mind a little.
I’m taking the Montreal Canadiens in 6 games, folks.