Jacques Martin apparently got enough of being the favourite and then losing during his time in Ottawa, and for the second series in a row guided his team to victory despite being heavy underdogs and once again losing the territorial battle.
A lot of the credit, deservedly, goes to Jaroslav Halak, who has been the best goaltender in this year’s playoffs (at least to date) and I’ll acknowledge that the Canadiens as a team have devoted themselves to Martin’s defensive system with the fervour of one of John Foxe’s martyrs. That said – and as Kouleas hints at toward the end of his segment – I still have trouble believing that Montreal is for real.
My disbelief extends past the Canadiens playoff seeding and regular season performance, and past scepticism that Halak can continue saving shots at the rate he has. A good portion of that scepticism comes from where Montreal has generated its offence.
Mike Cammalleri is the poster boy for the point I’m about to make. He has 12 goals in 14 games, and while there’s no denying he’s played very, very well, he can’t maintain that pace over the long haul. Right now, his shooting percentage is an incredible 25.0%; last year in the playoffs it was 6.3%. His career average is 12.3%; half of his current pace. So while I give him credit for his goals and his strong play, I wouldn’t bet that he can keep it up.
It isn’t just Cammalleri, either. As a team, the Canadiens have a 10.65 shooting percentage, a number which would have placed them second in the league during the regular season. The league average over the course of the season was 9.12%, and the Canadiens were actually below league average at 8.95%. If we assume they’re a league average team that underperformed during the regular season, we’d still expect their goal totals to drop by roughly 17%. If their regular season performance reflects their true shooting ability as a team, that number jumps to 19%. Given that this team has just squeaked out two series wins over the course of seven games, they can’t afford to lose one fifth of their offence and it isn’t likely they’d progress if they did.
So I remain an unbeliever in Montreal. But then again, everything I’ve just said was as true after the first round – more true, actually, since the percentages played a bigger role in the Canadiens win over Washington than over Pittsburgh, and the Canadiens still ended up coming out on top.
And now, a moment for the Penguins, who had some very real problems. This was a flawed team entering the playoffs, and I think we saw those flaws in the playoffs. But while there’s a lot of talk right now about whether the Penguins are wise to devote so much money to their centres, I think the biggest problem this season was the performance of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury’s numbers over the course of the season were backup calibre (indeed, he was outplayed at times by Brent Johnson) and they sunk in the postseason. He got away with a lousy performance against the Senators, but not against Montreal, and he deserves some heat for that 0.891 SV%. Pittsburgh could have played tighter defence, but re-watching the goals scored against him he let his team down. A slightly stronger performance could have won this series for Pittsburgh.