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My comments on Montreal’s win over Washington on Wednesday night drew some interesting responses, including a surprising number that indicated Montreal had won the series solidly on merit.  I certainly respect that Canadiens’ effort, but their decision to bunker down in the defensive zone is the decision of a team that knows it’s outmatched and needs some help from the bounces if it’s going to win.

At least, that’s my opinion, but it doesn’t seem even close to the consensus.  This shouldn’t be as surprising as it is; it seems that half of the hockey world operates on the principle of waiting until one team has won the series, than going back and explaining why they won it.  Winners win; had the losing team played better than the winning team they wouldn’t have lost, goes the reasoning.  Unfortunately, bounces, luck and hot goaltending turns that sort of thinking on its head.

I didn’t watch every minute of Montreal/Washington, so normally I’d be hobbled trying to explain how much better the Capitals were than the Canadiens.  However, fortunately for me, Olivier of the fantastic En Attendant Les Nordiques did watch every game, recorded the scoring chances, and made them a matter of public record.

(For those of you wondering about bias, if the name didn’t give it away Olivier follows the Canadiens).

Those scoring chances paint an interesting picture.  For instance, Montreal won game one, despite being outchanced by the Capitals.  Games five, six and seven all followed that same pattern – all Montreal victories, all games in which the Canadiens were out-chanced by the Capitals.  Games two, three and four also saw the Capitals out-chance Montreal, although they did win those games.

Game MTL Goals MTL SC Goals/SC WSH Goals WSH SC Goals/SC
1 3 19 0.158 2 35 0.057
2 5 16 0.312 6 23 0.261
3 1 17 0.059 5 24 0.208
4 3 21 0.143 6 22 0.272
5 2 17 0.118 1 21 0.048
6 4 20 0.200 1 36 0.028
7 2 16 0.125 1 28 0.036
Series 20 126 0.159 22 189 0.116

 

As one can see by looking at the chart, the Capitals actually upped their game for the final two contests in the series, but it didn’t matter.  They out-chanced the Canadiens by a 3:2 margin over the course of the series and actually outscored them 22-20, but Montreal was nearly 40% more likely to score on any scoring opportunity they received.

In any case, it’s very difficult to argue that the Canadiens were especially brilliant against the Capitals when one looks at that chart; after all, one can’t argue that the Habs prevented the Capitals from getting scoring chances.  They just weren’t able to convert on the ones they did get.

Montreal won, and they move on, but if I were running the Capitals I don’t think I’d make sweeping changes based on this series.