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Canadiens analytics recap: Week 2

In Week 2 of Habs #fancystats roundup: Lucic, Price, and a quick preview of today’s game vs. Detroit.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

With analytics taking hold in front offices and in 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. Don't forget to add your two cents in the comment section!

7-day recap

Oct. 16 vs Boston

(Olivier Bouchard’s full game report, in French)

A digression on Milan Lucic:

"The big Lucic is a player Montrealer love to hate, and who is often underestimated due to his pugilistic tendencies. Though he provides little value in the defensive zone and generally does not participate in his team’s breakout, he can become a terrifying presence past the offensive blueline. For me, it’s mostly his ability to enter the zone with control and create space with oftentimes brilliant plays which makes him someone worthy of admiration.

That being said, Lucic is also the most recent incarnation of a long and proud tradition of knuckleheads wearing the Bostonian black and gold. His stupid charge against Emelin in the dying minutes of the game stopped cold a comeback he helped orchestrate moments earlier."

The beauty of looking at things by the numbers, is that a player’s attributes, both positive and negative, can be broken down and weighed against one another. While, unlike in baseball, we are still far from being able to "put a number" on a player’s entire contribution to his team, we can already use a variety of metrics to approximate what a skater brings to the party in various situations. As I explained in a past article focused on Subban, Eller and Prust, a player’s propensity to take minor penalties can affect his team’s fortunes in a big way.

Almost all NHL players operate between 40% and 60% Corsi when they are on the ice, but some seldom put their teams down a man, while others routinely cause their sides to suffer through 2 minutes of 20% Corsi or worse at 4 vs 5. Just something else to consider.

Oct. 18 vs Colorado

(Olivier’s full game report, in French)

"I have to say, at even strength, this team has some punch. However, it is not very defensively hermetic. 14 scoring chances allowed at 5vs5 against the Bruins, 17 more against the Avs, that’s a lot of rubber. We’ll have to see whether Therrien manages to tighten things up defensively without dulling the offense. It would seem that the powerplay, for its part, has found the ability to general a certain quantity of chances…

Parenteau is really beginning to find his groove. He is taking advantage of the fact that Galchenyuk and Plekanec like to control the puck along the boards or cut directly to the net to set up shop in the high slot. PAP had 3 chances at 5vs5, while Galchenyuk was simply on fire (4 chances, 4 controlled entries and 1 goal). Don’t be fooled that they had a defensively tilted zone start ratio – the line accounted for 4 icings…"

Indeed, the powerplay has rebounded nicely after a rather toothless start to the season. Let’s take a look at P.K.’s powerplay tally against Colorado:

First, note the optimal personnel deployment: Plekanec and Galchenyuk low near the right corner, Parenteau posted smack dab in the middle of the defensive box, Markov on the right point and Subban isolated on the left flank. 14 and 27, who are left-handed, can make eye contact with 79 while digging the puck out from the corner. Any of the three can then throw it over to the righties 15 and 76 for a quick-one timer.

The fact that Parenteau (or the even more pesky Gallagher, on the first PP unit) is both a right-hander AND parked in the middle of the Avs’ 4-man box means that the defenders cannot cheat and over-commit to Subban’s shooting lane, unless they want a perennial 25-goal scorer to have a prime-quality shooting chance from the high-slot. This setup (which was nowhere to be seen in the first 3 games of the season) keeps the opposition honest.

From the other team’s point of view, honesty is never the best policy when defending P.K. Subban’s point shot, and so this is where they get burned. Markov gets the puck from Galchenyuk with plenty of time and space to spare and slides it over to an unmarked Subban. Critically, instead of having to shoot the puck from just inside the blue line, 76 ventures down to Alex Ovechkin’s Happy Place, and rips one past Pickard.

pkCOL

With one-and-a-half strides toward the net, he’s turning himself from a 4% shooter into a 19% shooter.

What the future may hold

The Price of success

From a statistical point of view, Carey Price has not gotten off to the best of starts this season (3.38 GAA, 0.890 save %). Some of it has to do with the fact that very few, if any, NHL goalies can avoid regressing after posting a 0.927 sv% season. However, some of it also has to do with the improved possession play exhibited by his team this season.

As Olivier mentioned after the win against Colorado, the Canadiens are indeed giving up more prime scoring opportunities, despite generally performing well in the possession game. From my observation, it would seem that the Habs are much less likely to be hemmed in their zone compared to during the Francis Bouillon-Douglas Murray era, but are more prone to giving up rush opportunities. Now, I have reasons to believe that this can be addressed via coaching adjustments (either a more diligent backcheck by the forwards or tighter gap control from the defensemen). If these adjustments materialize, and if the penalty kill improves (20-for-25 so far), then Price’s save percentage should rise comfortably above 0.900 in the near future.

Another reason for optimism: the Habs are generally better at shot prevention than last year.

This was then (5vs5 sv%, 2013-14 regular season) - note the colours of the circles:

price2013

And this is now (5vs5 sv%, 2014-15 so far):

price2014

In 2013-14, the starting netminders of Cup contenders were generally represented by big pinkish circles (unless your name is Cory Schneider and you play for the New Jersey Devils). Going by the first chart, Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi didn’t need to be particularly good for their teams to win a bunch of games. Quick went down 0-3 to Niemi in the postseason, and then got hot at the right moment. As long as Price’s circle doesn’t turn bright blue two months into the season, he won’t need to play at his very best in order to give the Habs a shot at the Division.

Red alert

- While the 2014 Detroit roster is less threatening than that of years past, the team is still well-coached by Mike Babcock, who has a knack for getting the best out of the Red Wings’ very young (Nyquist, Dekeyser, and rookie Nestrasil) and very old (Franzen, Dastyuk when healthy, and Alfredsson if he were to return).

- Despite being aged 24 or younger and playing in relatively tough conditions (-16% relative zone starts), Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar are Detroit's best possession forwards (+15%, +6% and +5% respectively in Fenwick Relative).

- Jakub Kindl (27) and Kyle Quincey (29) are putting up the best Fenwick ratings among Red Wings defensemen. Both are playing in sheltered conditions and neither are much more than good third-pairing guys, so look for them to be dealt in exchange for, frankly, better players at some point.

- Jimmy Howard is, statistically speaking, a very similar goalie to Carey Price, and liable to steal a game by himself occasionally.

Detroit’s powerplay (2-for-21) is worse than the Habs’ for obvious reasons: Babcock does not have a single right-hander to deploy on the man advantage other than the offensively challenged Luke Glendening (a third-line scoring talent in the AHL). Five lefties playing together on the PP is easy to shut down – pin them on the right side of the ice, and they have zero shooting options.