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Habs Analytics Recap : Week 1

With Fancystats taking hold in front offices and the mainstream media, we at EOTP thought it was high time to create a new weekly feature in order to discuss the Canadiens’ recent form from a quantitative point of view. Add your two cents in the comment section!

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For the first time, you will have access to excerpts (in English) of Olivier Bouchard’s excellent post-game analytics reports, as translated and commented by Jack Han.

Oct. 8 vs Toronto

(Olivier's full recap - French only)

"We’re already seeing interesting things. Most used forward duo on the penalty kill? Malhotra-Prust, of course (2:24). But interestingly, the second most-used unit was Pacioretty-Plekanec (1:43). Plekanec and Pacioretty as a regular PK unit? Simply delightful."

The benefits of having someone like Tomas Plekanec playing aggressively on the penalty kill is something that Justin Bourne (link) and I (link) have touched on in the past. It’s tough to get scored on if you have the puck, and the 14-67 duo is bound to create a ton of short-handed scoring chances with their speed and hockey sense. Another hidden benefit of an uber-aggressive defensive approach versus a passive box: less risk of injury to shot-blockers.


"Despite finishing a net negative in scoring chances and controlled entries, we saw some potential from Eller and his linemates. Eller (1 scoring chance, 5 controlled entries and 2 dump-ins) and Sekac (0 chances, 2 controlled entries and 5 dump-ins) run the show. Politely speaking, Bourque is not trusted to touch the puck often, considering he handles the puck as if it’s a pinless grenade."

For all the flak that Eller seems to be attracting, he is carving out a decent, Benoit Pouliot-type career for himself. Sekac seems to be thinking the game on a similar level, leaving Bourque free to maximize his above-average finishing skills. The Dane is unlikely to score more than 50 points this season (or in any other year, as things stand), but he is good enough to keep any opposing line honest and facilitate matchups for the top 2 lines, not unlike what Carl Soderberg’s trio is doing for the Bruins.

Oct 9. vs Washington

(Olivier's full recap)

"The Habs seem to be a very good team at 5vs5 and on the penalty kill, but the powerplay is still abominable. Things started out well last season, but once the opposition keyed in on Subban’s slapshot, everything fell apart."

It is fitting that this point would come up in a game against the Caps, as both teams have a talented core of players headlined by a heralded right-handed gunner (Subban and Ovechkin, respectively). While the skillsets of the top 5-man units are similar, the results haven’t been:

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5vs4 ShotsPer60, 20 game rolling average (MTL: red/blue, WSH: black/red)

"The team seems to be establishing a new scheme involving moving the puck behind the goal line rather than at the blue line. This plays into the strength of Galchenyuk, who quarterbacks the play from the side of the net. It is a more conventional formation, used in the heydays of Jacques Martin.

We overload the right side of the ice with a righty in front of the net (Parenteau/Gallagher), a lefty below the goal line (Desharnais/Galchenyuk), a lefty alongside the sideboard (Pacioretty/Plekanec) and defensemen playing on their opposite sides at the blueline."

My main beef with the Habs’ PP is that the puck moves too slowly to challenge opposing penalty killers. While a man up, the Habs are playing chess, while good powerplay teams like the Caps are playing checkers.

The key is to cycle the puck crisply around the zone to draw defenders out of the shooting lane, and then funnel the puck quickly to your primary shooting option for a one-timer. Washington can set up Ovechkin with both a quantity and a quality of shooting chances because of their slick 1-3-1 scheme, and because their point man (whether John Carlson or Mike Green) is also right-handed. I’d love to see what Tom Gilbert can do playing the right point on the Habs’s PP1, with Subban inching in closer to the faceoff dot rather than parked at the blue line. This arrangement would let Gilbert easily pick off a pass off the right sideboard and slide it over to Subban for a one-time blast.

Oct. 11 vs Philadelphia

(Olivier's full recap)

"It’s something I started tracking two years ago, at the same time as when I started keeping track of controlled zone entries. Essentially, tons of things happen in hockey about 3 seconds after something else, so I began identifying scoring chances which occurred 3 seconds or less after a controlled zone entry…

After 2 periods , the Flyers had 13 chances against 4 at even strength and blocked no less than 20 of 44 shot attempts by the Habs (versus 9 of 30 blocked by Montreal)…

My hypothesis: when a team is blocking scoring chances from the slot, it’s a sign of desperation. And desperation, in hockey, is a very bad long-term strategy"

Interesting observation, and definitely something to keep an eye on.

"The fourth line played well, but I have my doubts about Weise. On a defensive zone faceoff, he tends to ignore a dangerous scorer and instead look for a long pass to get out of the zone. May it’s something that the coaches asked for, but I doubt it."

Weise is an interesting case, a bottom-six player who thinks of himself as a skills guy rather than a grinder. Because of his mindset, he could have more to contribute offensively than Moen or even Bournival, but sometimes it causes him to take shortcuts which cause more harm than good.

"Out of 9 defensive zone faceoffs (not caused by icings), Gilbert and Beaulieu had 6. I don’t know whether it was intentional, since the coaches were looking to shelter the third pairing, and despite a few chaotic plays at the start of the game, things shaped up in the end. I’m less anxious to see Emelin again, all of a sudden."

Having defensemen like Tom Gilbert and Nathan Beaulieu together is a bit like playing winning poker. You know you’ll have some really bad beats once in a while, but these guys are good enough to help you win out in the long run. Markov-Subban is dynamite with an offensively-tilted zone start, so if the Habs can assemble a decent third pairing with a mix of Emelin, Tinordi, Weaver and/or a call-up to go with their current top-4, then it sets us up for a really interesting rest of the season.

Oct. 13 vs Tampa Bay

(Olivier's full recap)

"It was frustrating to watch. The Lightning made a fantastic push at even strength in the first period, but the Habs evened things up in the second and were close to overwhelming the Lightning. Except, the referees whistled for penalties and, in terms of the special teams, there was nothing to do there."

Note Olivier’s graph of the 5vs5 scoring chance differentials for the game:

"It’s still early, and we are seeing the Habs try some things out. Still, a pathetic night on the powerplay; I’d prefer to see Subban freewheel around the zone a bit more and Markov directing traffic from the blueline, just saying."

Once again, I’d state my preference for Gilbert, Beaulieu or even a centerman (Plekanec perhaps) quarterbacking the powerplay, and Subban drifting down the left wing looking for a one-timer, rather than for Markov to run things. First, the Russian is closing in on 36 and lacks the foot speed to break up a 2-on-1 going the other way, in case things go absolutely pear-shaped. Second, I am starting to suspect that Markov’s style no longer fits the bill on the man advantage. Though precise, his shot is not a Grade-A weapon, and as a playmaker, he might actually contribute to his team having a lower ShotPer60 on the man advantage. Note that the lone 5vs4 shot the Habs had against Tampa came when Gilbert, posted at the right point, slid the puck over to Subban for a one-timer. Bishop wasn’t screened and made the save easily, but at least the American had the instincts and deferential attitude to load the cannon for P.K.

"Beaulieu was the most-used defenseman at even strength, alongside Gilbert. Together, they took 7 or 19 defensive zone faceoffs. When playing with Desharnais and against Stamkos, they were thoroughly outplayed. No miracles to be expected there. Beaulieu will learn quickly when given these minutes, we can hope…

With the game out of reach, Tinordi and Weaver played a whopping 3:09 in the third period. Weaver played sparingly and almost never from the defensive zone. Whether injury or the ravages of time, things are not looking good for him."

I had major doubts whether Weaver would be back after last season, since generally I’d caution against signing a 35+ defenseman unless he is a 90th percentile puck mover (like Timonen and Zidlicky) or a potential Hall-of-Famer (like Chara or Pronger). For the mere mortals, age-related decline happens rapidly and without mercy. As it stands, the Habs have 7 NHL-quality defensemen on their NHL roster. 2 are liable to improve with more ice time (Beaulieu and Tinordi), 3 are more or less known qualities (Subban, Emelin and Gilbert), and the other two are ticking time bombs. Time will tell.