With the Canadiens's players and coaches getting ready for their next best-of-seven challenge, now is a great time to take a closer look at two teams fighting to join them.
Tampa is fast, talented and young, with players under the age of 24 playing over half of available minutes. Meanwhile, Detroit plays a highly disciplined system which produces unique results.
Both franchises have a Montreal connection, with Bolts assistant GM Julien BriseBois a former member of the Habs' front office, and Wings coach Mike Babcock a McGill University alumnus. Neither men will be taking the Canadiens lightly, and their own squads have more than enough firepower to stop the Habs' postseason run short.
Focus 1: Who to root for if you're a Habs fan?
The answer is unequivocal: if you want the Habs to have the best chance to move into the third round, you should hope that the Detroit Red Wings win Game 7 on Wednesday.
A new website called Datarink does a nifty job of visualizing 5 vs. 5 possession matchups between teams and individual players.
As per the site, the Montreal-Detroit season series looks pretty even from a shot differential point of view, with only Pavel Datsyuk and Gustav Nyquist really able to dominate play at 5-on-5 for the reds.
Meanwhile, it's a world of hurt from the Habs' perspective when they've played Tampa this year. Every regular Montreal player, with the exception of Plekanec (+8) and Gallagher (+4), have been out-shot when on the ice against the Lightning at even-strength. Subban is -17 on the season, while Gilbert is a whopping -31. On the other bench, the all-conquering top pair of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman clock in at +21 and +19 respectively.
Detroit has better special teams and the goalies are a wash, but considering that even-strength play is 80% of the game, the Habs are better off facing a team they can keep pace with at 5-on-5.
Focus 2: Tampa's explosiveness
Via James Mirtle's article:
Even if you leave out Steve Stamkos, the Lightning lead both the NHL in points and ice time for players 24 or younger this season. It’s a credit to how GM Steve Yzerman has built his team, from the development stage up, that the Lightning have the best second line in hockey – Tyler Johnson with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov – and all three are only beginning their careers. The Lightning are contenders this year, yes, but they’ll also likely stay in that conversation for years.
Percentage of minutes played by young players: 56 per cent
Even though younger players may struggle with things such as defensive zone coverage, the best ones more than make up for it with their abilities to break coverage and win one-on-one battles - that's how you score without being on the powerplay. Detroit's D-corps moves the puck well and is supremely patient on both sides of the rink, but from a pure talent point of view, they're no better than average. When Tampa can get speed and control across the middle of the ice, they feast.
Focus 3: Detroit's puck movement on the powerplay
Despite their skill and savvy with the puck, Detroit is no longer a great offensive team in the conventional sense of the word. Their superstars are aging, and their complementary players are not as good as those of seasons past.
In the 2014-15 regular season, Detroit was only 23rd in the league in terms of shot attempts for, on par with Edmonton and Toronto. However, they were able to remain a strong possession team because no other team in the NHL was as good as the Wings at preventing shot attempts against. The Wings are old by NHL standards, and they play like a savvy oldtimers team - by making short passes and hogging the puck so that they don't have to overtax their legs.
What's really allowed Detroit to stretch their consecutive playoff appearances to 24, however, is their work on the man advantage. Scoring on the powerplay allows the Wings to keep their opponents honest, and puts numbers on the boards for a team that can't score by the bushel like the Bolts or rely on goaltending like the Habs.
The thing is, for such an effective PP team, the Wings are also fairly one-dimensional. They have players with good vision and hands, which allows them to move the puck around and through the opposing four-man box. But they don't have anyone with an overpowering shot and, aside from Marek Zidlicky, no right-handed options on the powerplay.
If you start chasing the puck and letting the Wings pass across the slot toward the right side of the ice like on Tatar's goal above, you're in for a rough time. But if a team can force the puck toward the points, lock down the right side of the ice (as to eliminate a lefty's one-timer in the slot) and clean up rebounds, Detroit's powerplay won't be as dangerous as it seems.
Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.