The Montreal Canadiens Post Mortem - It wasn't size

Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto

As the Canadiens bowed out of the playoffs far quicker than expected, the easy narrative is already springing up, and it's the usual "Habs are too small" garbage. Guess what, it's still not true.

It's already on the lips of every sportswriter in the city. "The Habs lost because they're too small". We hear it every time the Habs lose, and even more so when they lose in the playoffs.

The argument about being too small is twofold:

  1. A small team is forced to play perimeter hockey and can't get shots. Even when they can get shots, they're not scoring chances
  2. A small team can't limit chances against because they can't keep big players out of the crease, leading to more goals against.
If you watched the series with an analytical eye, it shouldn't be surprising that neither of those things are true. The Montreal Canadiens lost in 5 games to a team they really should have beat based on the regular season, but not for lack of size.

The Habs outshot the Senators 184-154, and were outshot in just one of the 5 games. That occurred while sitting on a 2 goal lead in Game 4. The 54.4% margin in shots is pretty dominant for a team that's "too small", but the differential gets even wider when factoring out score effects.

While the score was close, the Canadiens held a 55.61% share of all Fenwick events. While 55.61% doesn't sound like extreme dominance, the difference in the head to head matchup is roughly equivalent to the Chicago Blackhawks in the regular season vs the Edmonton Oilers.

But the Habs are small, so obviously those were all shots from the outside since they couldn't penetrate Ottawa's hulking defense.

Wrong again.

The Canadiens outchanced the Senators 72-57 at even strength, a 55.81% advantage, even stronger than their shot advantage. On average, the Canadiens managed a scoring chance against Ottawa every 1.89 shots, while the Senators registered a scoring chance every 2 shots on goal.

But how can this be? It doesn't fit with the MOAR BIG narrative. But if the Habs don't need more grit, why did they lose?

Où êtes-vous, Lady Luck?
It's never a satisfying answer, it doesn't make a good story, but that's the truth of the situation. The reason the Montreal Canadiens are out of the playoffs right now has everything to do with Craig Anderson outplaying Carey Price and Peter Budaj, along with a healthy spoonful of luck.

Maybe the Habs need to get bigger in the crease then? Oh wait, Anderson is smaller than Price. Never mind.

Nothing sums this up better than looking at the goalscoring between the two teams after the end of the second period, a 13-0 advantage for Ottawa. Ottawa had the shot advantage in the 3rd periods and beyond in the series at 56-45, but shooting at 23.2% in the after the first 40 while the opposing team goes 0-for-45 is pretty unpredictable, and unsustainable.

But that's the nature of the playoffs. Sustainable doesn't matter. A hot goalie or a cold one can make or break a series, and having one of each in a single series can create a mismatch. How odd though, that the mismatch was in just one period of the series.

Montreal's combined save percentage in the first 40 minutes of each game: 92.9%.

Craig Anderson's save percentage in the first 40 minutes of each game: 93.3%

Oddly enough, Carey Price held a .943 save percentage through the first 40 minutes of each game, mildly outplaying Anderson.

Now, don't mistake this for polishing a turd. In no way am I saying Price played equivalently to Anderson, he didn't. Even the worst luck imaginable doesn't create the kind of disparity found in those 3rd periods. Whether the Canadiens lost focus, or something else, is hard to know, but that's where things went wrong.

Size was such a hinderance in this series, that two of the Senators' top 3 goal scorers in the series are 5'9" or under. In fact, the Senators aren't really a big team. Only three goals of twenty they scored against the Habs were by players over 6'1", and one of those was frequent healthy scratch Guillaume Latendresse.

To blame this series on a lack of size or grit is simply lazy, and anyone doing it should be embarrassed for themselves.


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