If on Monday night we watched the Montreal Canadiens get better and better like a fine wine, then last night we watched that wine slowly turn to vinegar.
In Game 3 the Habs slowly began to take over possession and expected goals throughout the game. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t have been surprising to watch the Habs pull ahead, except that they ran out of time. Watching Monday made me want to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Richard III and say “My Kingdom for more time.”
Meanwhile, last night’s game couldn’t end soon enough. Looking at the expected goals for is the best way I can quantify just how boring and brutal this game was. This stat measures where shots come from and assigns their chances of going in based on league averages in those areas.
As per Natural Stat Trick, in the first two periods, at five-on-five, Montreal controlled only 20.5% and 47.0% of the expected goals for (xGF%), respectively. In the third period they had a big push, controlling 70.2% of the expected goals. But here’s where I’d like to break this down a bit. In the third they didn’t control the percentage because they were playing so much better; it was actually because the Leafs stopped pushing offensively.
At even strength the Maple Leafs had about one expected goal in each of the first two periods. In the third period the Leafs had 0.3. That’s why Montreal’s percentage went up. Not because they were playing so much better offensively, but because the Leafs weren’t. And why should they?
The worst part about all of this? The numbers get worse in all situations.
So what — or more specifically, who — was the bright spot here? Well, that would have to be Nick Suzuki. I know that one of the goals was basically laid at his feet (although personally I think it was the defence’s mistake). But overall he had a good night both offensively and defensively.
One prime example was when Montreal almost gave up a short-handed goal. With 2:26 left in the first, Jeff Petry bobbled a pass from Cole Caulfield that almost turned into a breakaway. But Suzuki back-checked and managed to knock Kerfoot’s stick enough to prevent the shot but not enough to take a penalty. The heroics weren’t over, as Suzuki, now guarding a two-on-one, stopped the backdoor pass with his skate.
Suzuki also had the third-highest expected-goals-for percentage on his team playing against the Leafs’ shutdown pair of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. Admittedly he was put out in a primarily offensive role taking few faceoffs in his own end, but the future still looks bright for this future star.