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.

Comments (7)

  1. The only “sweeping changes” the Capitals could use are in mental attitudes. No doubt they have PLENTY of talent.

  2. I’ll copy-paste what I wrote in the Semin thread below:

    Chris Boyle over at Eyes on the prize has an interesting look at the shots allowed. Basically, he contends that Halak’s S% is dramatically lower from 20 feets in (.833) than 21 out (.961) and that the habs were actually able to box Semin, Ovechkin and Backstrom out of that zone.
    What’s interesting to me is that 21′-39′ radius where I do allow scoring chances while Boyle obviously consider those lesser chances.

  3. Olivier:

    Chris does some great work, eh? Halak’s been pretty good all year from that zone (not so much Price) but I wonder how it divides; half of that middle zone is on one side of the faceoff circle, half of it is on the other. I was under the impression that scoring chances were only clocked from the faceoff dot in – is that incorrect?

  4. No, that’s the way I score them. I’d also add that, from what I saw of my scoring chances and other guys SC, the 21-39 zone is, of course where you find 90% of disagreements between scorers. I’d say part of that zone is flat out of range, but part of his 1-19 zone is somewhat out of range too; I draw a line from the goalpost to the dot, even tough you have to give some leeway.

  5. Missing from this discussion though is the impact of score effects over “a small handful of games”. One big, big factor that led to the Canadiens winning games 5-6-7 is that they scored first in all three, and held the league for over 66% of the time in each game. That naturally tends to drive the trailing team to shoot more, and drives their shooting percentage down; and the reverse applies to the leading team.

    Not to the extent we’ve seen in this series, of course, but the point I’m trying to make is that the Habs came out of all three opening periods with a lead, and actually matched or bested the Caps in scoring chances in the first periods of games 5 and 6, which is the only point the score was tied. Territorial and chance “domination” only really started to start looking lopsided once the Caps were forced into playing catch-up. The fact that they led every last second of every period 2 and 3 over the last three games has to color the way the Corsi, shooting percentages, and scoring chances totals are examined (especially since they decided to go into a shell when that happened — rather foolishly, IMHO, but it’s apparently Martin’s way and it worked).

  6. i watched quite a bit of the series and there is one point that the analysts made that is accurate. Despite dominating puck possession Alex Ovechkin and the majority of the Capitals were trying to do things on their own. Backstrom was the only Capital to consistently use his teammates and that’s why he was undisputedly the Capitals best player. Washington was the more talented club but a lot of their shots didn’t make it through and the ones that did Halak was squared to or got some timely blocks and defelctions from his teammates when he was out of position. Montreal did do a good job of keeping active sticks laying down to deflect and block shots. I would say they deserve to win because they pulled together as a team and used each other more effectively on both ends while the Capitals dominated puck possession they seemed disjointed at times as a team during the last three games and in key powerplay situations or late in the game their grips tightened on their sticks and they weren’t able to create any sustained momentum to get back in the game.

  7. [...] effort, despite the torrent of shots that Halak faced each and every game.It was a take that didn’t really fit with scoring chance data; Montreal was dominated by the Capitals in that department but managed to eke out a win with no [...]

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