The Montreal Canadiens are undeniably a far better team than the Washington Capitals this season. Even after last night's loss, the Canadiens have 11 more points in one fewer game. The Canadiens are 7.6 percentage points better in Fenwick while the score is tied, and 6.2 percentage points better in Fenwick while the score is close. That gap represents a 16 team rank difference in Fenwick Close, and a 19 team gap in Fenwick Tied.
I don't bring this up to say "haha Capitals you're bad", or to delegitimize the loss, it was a loss. 2 points were not gained in the standings because the Caps scored more goals than the Canadiens did. Yet the Habs are better. They dominated puck possession by Corsi to the tune of 60.6% at even strength. But they lost.
This is a stark reminder of what can happen in hockey. In 2010 the Montreal Canadiens were an abysmal possession team with a good powerplay, facing a powerhouse Capitals team that was probably as good as the cup champion Blackhawks. Yet in a 7 game series the Canadiens stole the hope of a franchise, and they still haven't recovered from the overreaction to bad luck in a small sample.
I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, because I honestly believe that this is the best Canadiens team that I've witnessed through eyes that could tell how good a team is, but nothing is a guarantee in a sport like hockey, that's why they play the games.
These Montreal Canadiens, who've been rolling all season long to one of the most impressive records in since the days of dynasty, could go out in the first round, even to a bad team.
Do I think it's going to happen? Not really. The odds of it happening are far less than them going deep, but the odds really aren't that long that we shouldn't be prepared for bitter disappointment should we encounter it. The Canadiens are not impervious.
Last night's game was a classic case of why Fenwick is a more reliable indicator of success than Corsi. The Canadiens held the edge in Fenwick, but only by a marginal amount, while they held an extreme edge in Corsi. The Capitals blocked 34 shots on the night, which prevented a lot of possible chances for the Habs.
On a micro level, we can contrast the games of David Desharnais and Lars Eller. Desharnais was started much more heavily in the defensive zone, which skews the data, but while Desharnais rode a great game by Max Pacioretty to a +13 Corsi score, his Fenwick on the night was a mere +1. By contrast, Eller had a mere +4 Corsi, but managed a +3 Fenwick and two goals to go along with it. In essence, his possession was more effective because pucks were getting through Washington's defensemen.
The most impressive player on the night for either team though, was Andrei Markov. Playing a team high 25:02, Markov 14.8 minutes of his 22.4 at even strength against the Capitals' top two lines, starting just 41.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and he put up a team high +8 Fenwick differntial (team high by 4 events) and +16 Corsi differential.
Markov wasn't rewarded for his brilliance, but for the time being it seems like he and Davis Drewiske form a very dependable pairing.
P.K. Subban was given the unenviable task of shutting down Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and although Ovechkin has being averaging 5.8 shots per game in the last month, he was held to just 3 shot attempts, two that hit the net. Unfortunately one of those attempts was a knucklepuck that fluttered it's way past Carey Price, but them's the breaks sometimes.
As has happened a bit too often this season, Carey Price was sensational in the first period, only to have a let down in the second period. Price has allowed just 12 first period goals this year in 32 games. In the second period? 38. Part of that is score effects, part of that is bad luck, but part of that is poor play too, and Price would likely be the first person to say so.
This loss may be a bit of a wake up call to a team that's about to go on a stretch of 4 games against teams that have been annoying resilient against them this season. When you have a team as good as the Canadiens are this season, many of your losses will be in games where you've outplayed the opposition, but the Habs will want to fine tune and look for ways to eliminate that possibility as they enter the post season.
There is so little room for error when you're competing for a Stanley Cup.