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Canadiens vs. Rangers Game 5 by the Numbers: A Tale of Two Halves

The Montreal Canadiens have all the ability in the world... but a lack of consistent execution sees them heading to Broadway facing elimination.

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Five Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Well, revisiting this game the morning after certainly wasn’t the most pleasant way to start a Friday, but it was a good exercise in trying to replace the frustration of last night with something more productive.

The Habs demonstrated a rudimentary ability to play good hockey.

Let's get this out of the way first: the Montreal Canadiens have enough offensive talent to defeat the New York Rangers, and based on the 1st period, it looked like they had learned from the Game 4 debacle. Hockey, by nature, is usually a cyclical game alternating between frenzied activity and quiet neutral zone meditation. This was not the case in the 1st period of Game 5, as the Habs fired pucks at Henrik Lundqvist throughout the entirety of the 20 minutes.

To give this diagram a bit of a frame of reference: Montreal consistently produced offense at a greater rate throughout the period than New York did during their power play.

The net result of playing the way they are capable of: +11 5v5 shot attempts, +4 5v5 shots, +2 5v5 scoring chances, +4 5v5 high danger chances, and a 2-1 lead that should really have been 2- or 3-0.

This first period also demonstrated that Alain Vigneault's lineup alterations were not the magic tonic that turned this series. Despite home ice advantage, Claude Julien pursued the same forward line matchups as in Game 4: Kevin Hayes vs. Tomas Plekanec, Derek Stepan vs. Phillip Danault, and Mika Zibanejad vs. Alex Galchenyuk. The outcome was clearly different.

Same story in the second period

For the first two-thirds of the second period, the Canadiens looked like they were exorcising their middle frame demons. The lead was intact, and the 5v5 shot attempt differential had climbed from +11 to a peak of +17.

Then with roughly three minutes left in the second period, all three Canadiens forwards inexplicably went for a slow line change while the Rangers had the puck, leading to a New York 4 on 2. Alexei Emelin went for the hit on Zibanejad, leaving Dan Girardi, Pavel Buchnevich, and Chris Kreider alone with Nathan Beaulieu. Overpassing and an excellent play by Beaulieu saved the day, but this play was a harbinger of things to come.

From this point onward, the Canadiens effectively forgot how to play hockey. A timid passivity crept into all aspects of their play, and they entered the 3rd period effectively playing like the early-series Rangers: collapse the D, no defense activation, hope for a counter punch. The natural outcome was that from a peak 5v5 shot attempt differential of +17 with roughly five minutes left in the second period, the Habs finished the night at -1.

Just like in Game 4, this was a team (lack of) effort. Only one Canadiens line continued playing relatively well, and despite the castigation that the captain has and will receive, it was the Max Pacioretty-Danault-Artturi Lehkonen line that was the only one with a positive shot attempt differential after 40 minutes.

Montreal Net Shot Attempts in Game 5

Player First and Second Periods Third Period and Overtime
Player First and Second Periods Third Period and Overtime
Plekanec 1 -11
Danault 6 8
Galchenyuk 6 -8
Ott Even -4
Weber Even Even
Markov -6 -2
Petry 8 -8
Benn 8 -3
Beaulieu 5 -3
Emelin 11 -12

And while everyone was bad, nowhere was this drop off in offense more evident than with the Plekanec line. Below, I am using Plekanec’s personal CF/CA timeline to represent the trio as a whole – the reason for this is while wingers can change prior to their linemates, centers generally can’t.

Starting from the top, the first bar represents the entire game, with Plekanec’s personal shifts and their temporal positions represented by the second bar. These personal shifts are then collated in the third bar and CF/CA events are mapped accordingly in the fourth bar. In this chart, we see that the Plekanec line started on absolute fire, then was not on the ice for a single shot attempt for between shift 16 – midway through the second period – and shift 25 – a power play which started at 14:13 of the third period.

The Plekanec line can't play with Andrei Markov and Shea Weber… and vice versa

I’m not trying to pick on the Plekanec line here – Brendan Gallagher was without a doubt the best Canadiens player on the night – but there is a disquieting picture emerging when that trio is on the ice with Markov and Weber.

In Game 5, as mentioned previously, Plekanec posted a +13/-23 Corsi line in 17:55 of 5v5 TOI. With Weber (11:22), Plekanec was +6/-18; with Markov (9:19), he was +4/-18. With neither of the two, Plekanec was +7/-6. The trend repeats with Gallagher (+14/-24 overall in 18:43, +8/-6 without Markov/Weber) and Paul Byron (+13/-23 in 19:33, +7/-8 without Markov/Weber).

The reverse is also true. Weber posted an overall +27/-27 line in 24:31 and was +21/-9 without the Plekanec line. Markov posted +19/-27 (in 21:31) and +15/-9 respectively.

One can argue that this quintet is soaking up tough minutes, but that’s not really the case – partially because the Rangers no longer have a definitive top line. In Game 5, Plekanec played fairly equally against the Hayes line (8:16) and the Stepan line (6:15). Defensive minutes were also equally spread between Ryan McDonagh-Girardi (6:51), Brady Skjei- Brendan Smith (6:22), and Marc Staal-Nick Holden (4:10). Weber’s TOI distribution followed roughly the same pattern.

Shea vs. Skjei (or 6 vs. 76, if you prefer [ducks])

A large degree of the Plekanec-Weber combination’s struggles can be attributed to Brady Skjei, who has easily been the best defenseman – and maybe best player – on the New York Rangers this series. Skjei jumped to our attention with an outstanding performance in Game 1, which drew the attention of Montreal’s top defenseman. After a rough outing in Game 2, Skjei is beginning to turn the screw.

Brady Skjei’s Deployment and Performance

Game Overall 5v5 TOI Overall Corsi Overall Chances (High Danger) 5v5 TOI vs. Weber Corsi vs. Weber Chances vs. Weber (High Danger)
Game Overall 5v5 TOI Overall Corsi Overall Chances (High Danger) 5v5 TOI vs. Weber Corsi vs. Weber Chances vs. Weber (High Danger)
1 14:24 17-4 9-1 (2-0) 2:49 0-0 0-0 (0-0)
2 21:09 25-25 8-14 (3-4) 8:49 9-10 1-7 (1-2)
3 (with Klein) 17:01 9-15 5-7 (1-3) 8:10 6-7 3-2 (0-1)
4 16:37 19-15 9-5 (6-4) 7:16 6-3 3-2 (3-2)
5 20:46 18-24 9-8 (4-5) 8:01 13-8 7-3 (3-2)

Skjei is outplaying Shea, especially in Games 4 and 5, and this cannot continue if the Canadiens are going to win this series.

Three is not Four

It may seem pithy and trite, but the series isn’t over yet. Claude Julien will probably remember 2014, when this happened:

And then this did:

The Montreal Canadiens have demonstrated that they are a better team than the New York Rangers. However, they simply haven’t demonstrated it enough. There is no “next level” required. All they have to do is take what they’ve done for roughly 6 out of 17 periods of this series – and match it for the next 6.