Would you like a weird stat? The Montreal Canadiens improve to 3-0 on days that start with me mowing my lawn and booing a guy on the street in a Leafs jersey.
But you’re not here for me to write about my lawn (although I could). I want to talk about something that’s been sorely lacking for this team, and that’s offence. Despite not getting any goals from it, Montreal started Game 6 with a lot of it.
Here’s the thing that the coaching staff didn’t seem to get at the beginning of the series: offence is less easily quantifiable than defence. That makes it harder to coach. If defence is classical music, then offence is jazz. And if offence is jazz then Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caulfied are Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane.
I genuinely think that the biggest issue with Montreal’s offence is that the coaches are trying to make it too rigid. The easy example is the Shea Weber power-play slapshot. That play is easy to draw up on a board.
You know what’s hard to draw up on a board? The first goal that was scored. No one told the players to scramble on the draw. That’s improvising. Then they got the puck and looked like they were back to the plan. Caulfield went to the far left, took the one-timer and … whiffed.
But, in jazz, there are no true mistakes, just opportunities. You play it loud, wear it, and, voila, it’s on purpose. You just need the supporting musicians who can also improvise. Enter Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli, two guys who are very good at improvising in front of a net.
The only thing that I’d still like to see fixed — and I talked about it after last game — are the score effects. That’s a fancy way of saying when the Habs go into their defensive shell to protect a lead. To demonstrate this, I like to look at raw Corsi, or shot attempts. The idea behind this stat is that it measures not just possession of the puck, but when you’re in a position to shoot it.
In the first period, Montreal controlled 56.5% of the shot attempts. In the second, 65.5%. Then, in the third, the Canadiens got their lead; the culmination of all that hard work. That’s when the defence stopped pressuring the puck in favour of sitting in front of the net. And if you give the Leafs an inch, they’ll take a mile. Montreal’s share of the shot attempts dropped to 39.5% in the third.
It’s true that the two Leafs goals had a lot of luck involved, but if you let them shoot that much the odds of a lucky bounce go up. I also believe that this is why in overtime they were still flying and Montreal wasn’t. The home team gave them the reins and they wouldn’t give them back. Good thing they had Miles Davis to play the final chords.
This team hasn’t been the Flying Frenchmen since before I was born, but I’ve watched some of the games from the 1970s. When the Habs play like they did last night, it reminds me of those high-flying teams that couldn’t make any mistakes, just opportunities.