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How the Montreal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators

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The Montreal Canadiens have eliminated the Ottawa Senators in six games, but how did they do it?

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While the Montreal Canadiens looked pretty good in terms of analytics three games into the series, they ended up playing the Senators evenly, or just below it, depending on if you're using raw or score-adjusted possession statistics. They ended up even in goals, tied for 12 each, and nearly tied in even strength scoring chances as well, according to War on Ice.

As far as playoff series go, this one was as tight as it could possibly get, so what tipped the balance in favour of the Montreal Canadiens? From what I can gather, it was a combination of the following:

Lars Eller

For the first time this season, Eller is actually getting credit for the work he's doing in spite of relatively little offensive production on the score sheet. While he's doing the same job he did during the regular season, Eller's usage became so extreme in round one, and his performance was so high, even those who don't pay attention to analytics were bound to take notice.

Eller finished the six game series against Ottawa with a 54.6% Corsi (Second on the team), meaning while he was on the ice, the Canadiens controlled that percentage of shot attempts, and a 57.0% Fenwick (First on the team), meaning while he was on the ice, the Canadiens controlled that percentage of unblocked shot attempts. Eller accomplished this while starting just 26.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and playing with linemates who don't usually drive possession.

What's even more impressive about Eller's performance in a shutdown role, is that he played a heavy amount of minutes against the Kyle Turris line, with Turris himself not even registering a single even strength point in the series. Eller's usage also allowed Michel Therrien to get both of his offensive lines starting in the offensive zone more often than not, and had they done their jobs more efficiently, the true impact of his role would be even more clear.

If you ignore Carey Price for a moment (I know, sacrilege), you can make a very good case that Eller was the Habs' most valuable player in this series.

Jeff Petry

Acquired at the trade deadline, I'm not sure even the most pie-eyed optimists would have predicted how great Petry would play down the stretch. While both P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov ended up with better raw numbers than Petry in the series, it was by just a hair, and Petry played a significantly tougher role. Markov struggled at times with speed and decision making, but overall he was still a more than capable partner for Subban, while Petry was dealing with Alexei Emelin.

An easy way to demonstrate how excellent Petry was? His shot attempt differential at even strength was a sterling 53.0%, while his partner was at 45.3%. That gigantic gap happened when they were playing apart, and they barely played apart in the first round. They both started almost the exact same amount of shifts in the offensive zone, 37.2% for for Petry and 37.7% for Emelin. Petry had to carry Emelin on his shoulders in top-four minutes, and he did so extraordinarily well.

The addition of Petry allowed the Canadiens to have a dynamic possession-driving force on the ice while Subban and Markov were resting, something they haven't ever had before.

Brandon Prust

For the first time in his Habs career, Prust has started to look like the forgotten man at times. Hailed as the heart and soul leader the year he was signed, a lot of the credit Prust used to get from media has been getting thrown at the feet of Dale Weise over the last year, and so has the ice time.

Yet Prust has quietly had a very good season this year, and his play in round one against Ottawa was beyond what you could ever expect of a player mostly playing on the fourth line. Starting just 32.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Prust was the unlikely leader of the Canadiens in shot attempt differential in the series, clocking in at an insanely impressive 58.4% possession rate. Possibly even more impressive than that, Prust led the Habs in scoring chance differential too, with the Canadiens controlling 63.4% of chances while he was on the ice.

How exactly did Prust do it? By sticking to his game, which is that of a defensive ace. Prust was on for the fewest scoring chances against per minute played of any player on the Habs, and he actually generated the 5th most individual chances through his strong forechecking abilities and puck protection along the boards.

With Eller shutting down and dominating the top of the Senators' lineup, and Prust doing the same to the bottom of it, it was only the middle group that the Habs needed to worry about, and with Carey Price stopping nearly everything at even strength, that's all she wrote for Ottawa.

Statistical breakdown

Name pos Team Gm TOI/Gm G A P ES G60 ES A60 ES P60 Shots CF% SCF% iSC FF% OZS%
Andrei Markov D MTL 6 18.10 0 1 1 0.00 0.00 0.00 7 53.62 56.44 3 56.18 50.00
P.K. Subban D MTL 6 17.79 1 3 4 0.56 1.12 1.69 14 53.97 55.00 6 55.93 48.48
Jeff Petry D MTL 6 17.60 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 13 53.02 52.33 8 51.03 37.21
Alexei Emelin D MTL 6 17.58 0 1 1 0.00 0.57 0.57 4 45.33 42.39 6 43.75 37.65
Tom Gilbert D MTL 6 16.45 1 1 0.61 0.00 0.61 4 46.49 45.59 0 48.80 56.25
Tomas Plekanec C MTL 6 14.81 1 2 3 0.68 1.35 2.03 13 46.50 46.15 8 47.14 51.43
Brendan Gallagher R MTL 6 14.76 1 1 2 0.68 0.68 1.36 19 52.88 55.81 14 54.05 60.00
Alex Galchenyuk LC MTL 6 14.11 1 1 2 0.71 0.71 1.42 9 47.34 45.00 10 48.15 60.66
Max Pacioretty L MTL 5 13.68 2 0 2 0.00 0.00 0.00 13 50.66 52.78 15 51.40 62.50
David Desharnais C MTL 6 12.78 0 2 2 0.00 0.78 0.78 6 48.10 48.68 7 48.18 70.69
Lars Eller CL MTL 6 12.22 1 1 2 0.00 0.82 0.82 11 54.55 52.73 9 57.00 26.09
Jacob De La Rose CL MTL 6 12.10 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 6 50.76 46.67 5 54.64 18.60
Devante Smith-Pelly R MTL 6 11.97 0 1 1 0.00 0.84 0.84 8 50.00 49.02 8 51.72 56.60
Dale Weise R MTL 6 11.89 2 0 2 1.68 0.00 1.68 13 49.32 46.30 7 48.51 39.13
Nathan Beaulieu D MTL 3 11.56 0 1 1 0.00 1.73 1.73 2 44.44 46.15 1 43.90 66.67
P.A. Parenteau R MTL 2 10.75 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 2 34.21 28.57 0 32.00 78.95
Torrey Mitchell C MTL 6 10.40 1 2 3 0.96 1.92 2.89 3 52.63 51.28 3 53.49 17.31
Greg Pateryn D MTL 3 10.14 0 2 2 0.00 3.95 3.95 2 48.94 35.71 0 54.55 75.00
Brandon Prust L MTL 6 9.90 0 2 2 0.00 2.02 2.02 12 58.41 63.41 8 56.96 32.50
Brian Flynn R MTL 5 8.99 1 1 2 1.34 1.34 2.67 8 51.65 56.76 4 53.52 36.00

Data from War on Ice, all data aside from point totals is 5-vs-5 only.