NHL Playoffs: Canadiens, eh? Can the Hot Play Continue?
The Montreal Canadiens weren’t supposed to be here. Dead in the water down 3-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, the Canadiens were without a pulse, heading back to Toronto where the heavily favored Leafs were sure to close out the series.
Then Montreal flipped the switch.
Defensive adjustments stifled opposing offenses. Carey Price became a brick wall in net. Veterans like Corey Perry and Eric Staal started playing as though they were five years younger. Young guns like Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi played with the poise of a 10-year player in the prime of their career.
And now, heading into Monday night, the Canadiens are four wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since winning it all in 1993.
What’s Working for Montreal?
As is tradition, Price in the playoffs is a tough one to solve. Before Monday’s game, Price is the playoff leader in save percentage (.935), and he is third in GAA (1.97).
But digging deeper, Price’s advanced stats show just how well he is playing. In 5-on-5 scenarios, Price ranks second in the playoffs in high-danger goals saved above average (HDGSAA) at 3.07. His HDGSAA jumps to 3.65 over all situations.
But Price isn’t the only one exceeding expectations. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli, and Joel Armia all have four goals so far, well above their individual expected goals rate (iXG) in all situations. Armia, in particular, is performing beyond the norm, with an actual goal total of four but an iXG of 1.8, meaning he has scored more than two goals beyond what was expected.
Montreal has also buckled down defensively. The Canadiens allow 30.8 shots per game, the fifth-fewest allowed among any playoff team; three of the four ahead of Montreal have already been eliminated.
It doesn’t stop there. The playoff leader in penalty kill percentage? You guessed it. It’s the Canadiens. Montreal has killed 90.3 percent of their penalties in the playoffs, and they’ve scored an incredible four shorthanded goals. The rest of the playoff teams have combined for six.
How Can Anyone Stop the Habs? And When?
If Vegas, in particular, is going to end Montreal’s fairy tale season, the first thing they need to do is get traffic in front of Price. With Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry out for Game One, the Golden Knights can take Price off his game with pressure, high shot volume, redirects, and screens.
Beyond that, opponents (Vegas) need to force Montreal into low-danger areas in the offensive zone. The Canadiens have 111 high-danger scoring chances in the playoffs, the lowest of any final four teams. However, Montreal leads the playoffs in a high-danger shooting percentage at 22.22 percent. Even more, high-danger goals account for 20 of Montreal’s 28 playoff goals.
Vegas will easily be the best defense Montreal has seen in the playoffs, and they could be the best equipped to end the Canadiens’ run. Realistically, the Canadiens have a 35.2 percent chance to advance, according to MoneyPuck.com
But if there’s one team that doesn’t give a damn about those expectations, it’s the Montreal Bleeping Canadiens.
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