Seven Days in Stats: What the numbers suggest about the Montreal Canadiens’ first week of the season

The impact of Shea Weber, the special game of Victor Mete, the rejuvenation of Tomas Plekanec, and more are detailed using various metrics.

Welcome to “The week in stats,” a (hopefully) weekly column where we take a look at  seven interesting quirks of the Montreal Canadiens’ stats sheet over the last week.

Just as a preamble, although the topics we highlight here are based on data, they are not to be taken as trends, as the sample sizes aren’t nearly sufficient. The intention is to look at curious or noteworthy things and talk about their implications if they persist in the future, or to explain something that’s occurred the previous week.

This week’s results: 3-2 W (SO) @ BUF, 6-1 L @ WSH, 2-0 L @ NYR, 3-1 L vs. CHI.

With about five percent of a long season now in the books, the Habs have gotten off to a 1-3 start. Despite the very different games played in Buffalo, Washington, New York, and Montreal this week, there are definitely a few things percolating.

1. The Julien effect is already visible.

Some time ago, I took a look at how the differences between Claude Julien and Michel Therrien translated to the ice and the stats sheet, with the primary conclusion that Julien teams shoot from the slot while Therrien teams shoot from the periphery. Four games in, it is already clear that these Habs — at least in the offensive zone — are a Julien team.

The players are actively striving to shoot from the slot region, and this is best exemplified by the performance of a certain left-handed right-winger.

Last year, Artturi Lehkonen’s heat map was indicative of a player who mainly drove directly to the crease looking for rebounds to jam at. This year, Lehkonen is a slot-sniping machine, and only divine intervention has kept him off the score sheet.

2. Shea Weber is a shot-suppressing savant … for both teams.

When the Canadiens acquired Shea Weber, the B.C. native was largely panned for being a negative possession player. Weber then simply turned around and recorded his best relative Corsi-for percentage in three years.

This year, Weber’s percentages are even better, but they’re masking an issue. Weber’s defensive play remains spectacular, but Montreal’s offensive capacity is diminished with the Man Mountain on the ice. Through four games, Weber’s raw five-on-five Corsi for, shots for, and scoring chances for per 60 minutes of ice time are near the bottom of the list.

Which is a more desirable outcome when seeking goal-scoring: to outshoot a team 15-5 (75%) or to outshoot a team 40-25 (62%)?

3. Are the Habs deferring too much to Weber’s slapshot?

The other thing to note regarding Weber is that his teammates seem to be focusing on him when on the ice. If you look at Weber’s on-ice shot chart, you’ll notice a lot of point shots.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except for the lack of shots coming from the slot.

Compare this to Jonathan Drouin’s on-ice shot chart.

When Drouin is on the ice, the generated shot profile more closely aligns to that of the team overall (see point #1), with the focal areas shifted more to the middle of the ice. There’s no WOWY shot heatmap data for the Drouin/Weber relationship, but it stands to reason that if Drouin was pursuing slot shots with Weber on the ice, it would reflect in Weber’s shot chart.

As such, the more likely scenario is that when Weber is playing with Drouin, Drouin seeks to set up Weber at the expense of his own offensive production. When Drouin is playing with another defence pairing, the forwards become the primary focus.

This indicates that Weber’s magnetism is transforming the Canadiens’ top unit into a one-dimensional, point-shot-oriented offence which is significantly easier to defend, even if it is Shea Weber’s point shot.

4. Mete is here to stay; Streit is not quite right.

Victor Mete’s ascension through the ranks has been as startling as it has been rapid, and given how the youngster has played, he’s unlikely to don a London Knights jersey again.

In four games, Mete has more than kept up with Weber, and even a brief demotion to play next to Mark Streit versus Washington failed to affect the rookie’s play. More importantly, it’s clear that Mete has the trust of Julien, playing around 17 to 20 minutes every game — and not always tethered to Weber’s side.

Speaking of Streit, early signs indicate that it’s the Swiss veteran who is on the outside looking in. Brought in to boost the power play, Streit’s TOI was the lowest by some degree versus Buffalo, he made an obvious defensive gaffe in Washington, and was a healthy scratch against the Rangers and the Blackhawks.

Moreover, the emergence of Mete and the deployment of a four-forward first power-play unit means that Streit should now be behind the London product and Jeff Petry for the defence slots on the second unit. With Brandon Davidson preferred for the home opener, David Schlemko recovering, and Jakub Jerabek notching two assists in his first game with the Laval Rocket, Streit is in dire straits to keep his spot.

5. Jeff Petry’s fortunes echo those of the Canadiens.

Believe it or not, the much-maligned duo of Petry and Karl Alzner has been quietly excellent so far this season.

Petry and Alzner are not only generating superb scoring chance ratios, but also giving the Habs volume. Only a ridiculous amount of bad luck has combined to both keep this pairing off the score sheet and cause them to be on the ice for a team-leading five goals against.

A possible reason for the success of this duo is that, right now, it’’s the most balanced defence pairing that the Canadiens have. Petry’s shot chart indicates that the blue-liner is being active and engaging in the offensive zone to try to keep plays alive, resulting in sustained pressure, while Alzner stays back as security.

At the moment, Mete is likely too timid to attempt the same (the youngster didn’t have a single shot attempt through the first three games), while the Benn-Streit duo simply lack the fleetness of foot to consider such tactics. Inserting Davidson into the lineup could provide balance to the third pairing as Mete gains more boldness, and he’s taking great strides in this regard if the Chicago game is a harbinger of things to come.

6. Tomas Plekanec has found the Fountain of Youth at the corner of Lehkosenkatu and Rue Hudon

Last season, Tomas Plekanec looked a shadow of his former self and talk largely focused on how long before he fell over that cliff altogether. This year, he’s been part of the Habs’ most dangerous line, and even has a goal to boot.

The Czech veteran is certainly having a resurgence, but his success is in no small part due to linemates Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon. Plekanec’s WOWY numbers certainly bear this out (with the caveat of not only small sample size, but also that Plekanec’s minutes apart from Lehkonen and Hudon are likely much tougher than the inverse).

The trio combined appear to have found a natural synergy that surpasses the abilities of the three individually, and it’s only through an extreme lack of luck that they haven’t found the back of the net more than once.

7. Paul Byron probably won’t hit 20 goals.

I want a hero: an uncommon want / When every year and month sends forth a new one,

Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant / The age discovers he is not the true one;

Alright, that’s a little harsh on Byron, who finds himself on the fourth line with heavily defensive-oriented minutes to start the season through no fault of his own, but the diminutive winger is last amongst forwards in CF% and second-last in SF%, SCF%, and HDSCF%.

If Byron stays where he is, his offensive numbers are unlikely to deviate too much going forward – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Byron provides value wherever he’s used, whether as a poacher, a defensive forward, or a penalty-killer.

Some will fault the individual for the inevitable decline in production that his usage will bring, but Byron not hitting the 20-goal mark will be a far greater indictment of Claude Julien’s tactics than any regression on Byron’s part.

It also seems like Julien understands that Byron has more offensive potential than your traditional fourth-liner, given yesterday’s practice lines....

Statistics via Natural Stat Trick, graphics via HockeyViz.

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