Revisiting Great Games: Boston vs Montreal - Game 7 - 1979

CBC

It was one of the greatest showdowns of all time, so let's revisit the defining moment of the Habs/Bruins rivalry with a twist; let's bring in new statistics.

It was the final year of a four year dynasty, and the ultimate and defining moment of a rivalry that has consumed generations of fans. The greatest game in the greatest rivalry in the NHL. The game that lead to one of the most famous images of Donald S. Cherry, although usually falsely attributed to the infamous 'too many men on the ice' penalty, it was actually due to a flagrant hooking penalty that Cherry somehow thought was totally fine.

Since 1979 there have been a multitude of changes in the game of hockey. We'll never again see a player with Lafleur's flowing golden locks of hair as he streaks down the ice, but we also have modern statistics that give us a better understanding of the game, and allow us to see past biases.

This game was played between perhaps the greatest professional hockey team ever assembled, and the most underrated one. The Montreal Canadiens bulldozed the entire NHL in the 1970's, and were dominant in the last 4 years of the decade to an extent that no other team has ever matched. But the Boston Bruins were always a thorn in their side. For the two years previous, the Bruins had met the Canadiens in the finals, but this year they would meet in the semi finals, and it would be the most well contended series between them during this period.

Reading Ken Dryden's lauded book "The Game", you'll notice how confident the Habs were in this season. There was no question in their minds whether they would beat a team or not if they played, the question was if the team wanted to bother playing. They were so good, that they had to beat themselves to lose. But that was the regular season, and this was the playoffs, and the Bruins are never an easy out.

If ever there as a game that deserves revisiting, it's this one.

Montreal Canadiens Roster

Forwards

Steve Shutt [22] - Jacques Lemaire [25] - Guy Lafleur [10]
Yvon Lambert [11] - Rejean Houle [15] - Mario Tremblay [14]
Bob Gainey [23] - Doug Jarvis [21] - Doug Risebrough [8]
Pierre Mondou [6] - Mark Napier [31]

Defensemen

Larry Robinson [19] - Brian Engblom [3]
Guy Lapointe [5] - Serge Savard [18]
Rick Chartraw [27]

Goaltenders

Ken Dryden [29]
Michel "Bunny" Larocque [1]

One of the funny things about this lineup as compared to today is Mark Napier wearing the "rookie number" of a whopping 31. No 78's or 89's in this lineup. Old timers must love it.

Boston Bruins Roster

Forwards

Rick Middleton [16] - Jean Ratelle [10] - Wayne Cashman [12]
Don Marcotte [21] - Peter McNab [8] - Terry O'Reilly [14]
Bob Miller [14] - Stan Johnathan [17] - Bobby Schmautz [11]
John Wensink [18] - Dwight Foster [27] - Al Secord [20]

Defensemen

Brad Park [22] - Al Sims [29]
Rick Smith [23] - Mike Milbury [26]
Dick Redmond [6]

Goaltenders

Gilles Gilbert [1]
Gerry Cheevers [30]

After spending hours watching the game, pausing, rewinding, double checking... I was able to record possession and scoring chance data for the game, as well as notice some startling things. But we'll get into it after I go through the stats.

We'll start with team stats. For team stats I split the possession numbers up by situation, but I didn't do that for the player stats. The reason being is that the way I organized the excel sheet made accounting for each player extremely difficult. The grainy quality of the video also doesn't help there, so with player stats scoring chances are split into even strength, powerplay, and penalty kill, but possession numbers are not. I may revisit the data later to update it. I also didn't isolate score effects for players, but I did for teams.

If you need definitions for the stats, check out our glossary.

Habs Team Possession and Scoring Chances

Metric For Against
Even Strength - Score tied Scoring Chances 15 8
Even Strength - Score tied Fenwick 42 18
Even Strength - Score tied Corsi 45 21
Even Strength - Score within one Scoring Chances 23 11
Even Strength - Score within one Fenwick 64 26
Even Strength - Score within one Corsi 71 32
Even Strength - Scoring Chances
26 15
Even Strength - Fenwick
72 33
Even Strength - Corsi
81 42
Total - Scoring Chances 37 17
Total - Fenwick 93 35
Total - Corsi 105 46

Habs Players' Possession

Player Fenwick For Fenwick Against Fenwick % Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi %
Engblom 25 16 61.0 28 22 56.0
Lapointe 41 11 78.8 46 17 73.0
Mondou 8 4 66.7 8 8 50.0
Risebrough 19 11 63.3 23 13 63.9
Lafleur 55 16 77.5 61 17 78.2
Lambert 26 15 63.4 29 18 61.7
Tremblay 16 9 64.0 18 12 60.0
Houle 21 6 77.8 25 10 71.4
Savard 53 15 77.9 60 19 75.9
Robinson 58 23 71.6 67 29 69.8
Jarvis 11 7 61,1 13 10 56.5
Shutt 25 5 83.3 28 5 84.8
Gainey 29 11 72.5 32 18 64.0
Lemaire 44 9 83.0 50 10 83.3
Chartraw 1 0 100 1 0 100
Napier 19 6 70.0 21 9 70.0

Habs Players' Scoring Chances

Player EV For EV Against PP For PP Against SH For SH Against
Engblom 9 7 0 0 0 0
Lapointe 13 9 5 0 0 1
Mondou 1 2 2 0 0 0
Risebrough 9 7 0 0 0 0
Lafleur 11 5 11 0 0 0
Lambert 9 7 2 0 0 1
Tremblay 7 6 0 0 0 0
Houle 8 3 0 0 0 0
Savard 12 8 8 0 0 1
Robinson 13 4 9 0 0 2
Jarvis 4 3 0 0 0 0
Shutt 11 1 1 0 0 0
Gainey 5 6 2 0 0 2
Lemaire 11 3 9 0 0 0
Chartraw 1 0 0 0 0 2
Napier 2 1 5 0 0 0

Notes:

  • In a game 7 where both teams have been worn down by the grind of the playoffs, Boston used 9 forwards for the entire game.
  • Both teams used 4 defensemen exclusively at even strength, although Rick Chartraw got one or two shifts after Lapointe was injured.
  • After Guy Lapointe was injured during the 3rd period, Montreal shortened the bench even further by putting Savard and Robinson together and giving Engblom a shift about every 5 minutes. This meant that Savard and Robinson ended up playing about 40 minutes each, maybe even more.
  • Scotty Bowman deployed his players zonally 30 years before we'd ever even hear the term zone start in hockey media. Steve Shutt's stat line looks so damn impressive because he was used exclusively on the powerplay and in the offensive zone. On defensive zone draws, Bob Gainey played with Lemaire and Lafleur. Lemaire's ridiculous possession numbers were while playing those tough minutes as well, which makes him look pretty damn good.
  • The Canadiens fired 105 shots on the Bruins net, 61 of which were while Lafleur was on the ice. Keep in mind that unlike Robinson and Savard, Lafleur played nowhere close to half the game. The guy was a generational talent who was absolutely prolific on the powerplay.
  • Both teams juggled lines constantly, although Montreal seemed to have set changes whereas the Bruins seemed more random as Cherry struggled to match up with Scotty Bowman.
  • Call it lucky if you want, and his technique doesn't stand up, but this game should go down as one of the best goaltender performances ever on behalf of Gilles Gilbert. The caliber of shooters he was facing combined with pure shot volume should have made this a rout early one.
  • Why doesn't Larry Robinson get more hype as one of the greatest defensemen of all time? I think he's right there with Lidstrom and Bourque, right behind Bobby Orr.
  • Speaking of Robinson, the guy was so purposeful and patient with the puck. He constantly rushed right into two Bruins only to somehow squeeze the puck through both of them to an open teammate. He created tons of room for his teammates.
  • "Lafleur, coming out rather gingerly on the right side..." is so ingrained into Habs lore, and even though this project was tedious, and I've heard it 100 times, when I got to that moment it still gave me a chill.
  • Rejean Houle was playing his first game back after an abdominal injury, and he was one of the team's most impressive players. If he didn't have such a penchant for passing while he had a breakaway, we might be willing to forgive his tenure as GM.
  • I didn't post breakdowns of the Bruins players for two reasons, 1) this was an insanely time consuming project, and 2) I didn't think anyone would care about the Bruins. If you do want to see the Bruins breakdown, let me know and I'll try to get it out by next week.
  • Jean Ratelle was a hell of a player. He really stood out as the Bruins' best aside from Gilbert. Excellent defensively and tough to get off the puck. Cashman gets the glory as the star of this game for the Bruins, but truthfully it was Ratelle leading the offensive charge.
  • The Canadiens had a 70% Fenwick while the score was tied. That kind of dominance is incredible. This is a microscopic sample size, but the Bruins were also one of the best teams in the NHL. Is it possible that the Canadiens had a season average anywhere near that? The highest possession post lockout was Detroit in 2007-08, with 59.66% Fenwick tied. Based on the disparity of talent in the league back then, and how incredibly good the Canadiens were, it's plausible that they were a better than 70% Fenwick team. Think about how that while looking at Cunneyworth's Habs toiling in the low 40's last year. Yes I'm ending on a depressing note.

Hope you all enjoyed this blast from the past with a hint of modern NHL analysis.

And hey, if you don't have the DVD, here's the full game available on YouTube:


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