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Last year, the legend of the ‘bend don’t break’ Montreal defence was established.  Series wins against the heavily favoured Capitals and Penguins had pundits praising not only the play of Jaroslav Halak, but also the Montreal defence.  It’s probably worth noting that both the Penguins (to some extent) and the Capitals (to a much larger extent) were questioned in the wake of those losses, but even so the majority of commentary I heard was highly complimentary of the Canadiens defensive 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 small amount of luck/Halakian brilliance.

What about this year?  The Canadiens were outshot by Boston in both games; is Price saving the bacon or is shot quality playing a major role?

It’s been a little bit of both, but I’d argue the Canadiens are having a better series against Boston so far than they did against Washington.

Let’s start by comparing scoring chances to shot totals; last year the Canadiens were dominated in both categories.  Once again, we rely on the excellent work of Olivier from En attendant les Nordiques:

Team Game 1 SF Game 1 CF Game 2 SF Game 2 CF
Boston Bruins 31 19 35 12
Montreal Canadiens 20 15 26 13

In game one, the shots for and against matched scoring chances rather well, but in game two we can see a notable difference – the Canadiens had a narrow edge on the Bruins in chances despite being outshot.

What about shot location?  NHL Gamecenter tracks the location of every shot taken in every game, and we can break up where the shots came from.  I generally divide shot location into three areas:

  • Prime scoring area: between and below the two playoff dots
  • Secondary scoring area: beneath the top of the two playoff circles
  • Long shots: everything above the two playoff circles

Here are the shot charts for Montreal and Boston through two games:

Boston

Location G1 Shots G1 Goals G1 SH% G2 Shots G2 Goals G2 SH%
Prime 7 0 0.0 7 1 14.3
Secondary 9 0 0.0 9 0 0.0
Long 15 0 0.0 19 0 0.0

Montreal

Location G1 Shots G1 Goals G1 SH% G2 Shots G2 Goals G2 SH%
Prime 3 1 33.3 11 2 18.2
Secondary 5 0 0.0 6 1 16.7
Long 12 1 8.3 9 0 0.0

The match between Carey Price and Tim Thomas has been a mismatch so far.  Price has yet to allow a goal from anywhere outside the prime scoring areas, and inside the prime scoring area he has a remarkable 0.929 SV%.  Thomas on the other hand has not only allowed two goals from outside the prime area, but inside that principle scoring zone he has allowed goals at a rate three times that of Price, posting a 0.786 SV%.

So far in this series, both the Canadiens’ defence and Carey Price have deserved credit.  If things carry on as they did in game two, where the Bruins fired more shots but most of them from outside the main scoring areas, it won’t matter that they keep outshooting the Canadiens.  If, however, things stay as they were in game one – where the Bruins not only outshot Montreal but also fired more shots from in close to the net, then the Canadiens will need Carey Price to continue outplaying Thomas by a wide margin.