Analyze This: Despite Canadiens’ slow start, there are reasons for optimism

Editor’s note: This marks the first column about hockey analytics by new Hockey Inside/Out contributor Marc Dumont. Analyze This will examine interesting trends and pertinent numbers behind the Canadiens’ stats. Marc Dumont is a contributor to the Athletic Montreal website and former managing editor of Eyes on the Prize, a website devoted to Canadiens coverage. His column will appear weekly throughout the 2017-18 season. 
— Dave Peters, Montreal Gazette Sports Editor

 

Marc Dumont

Special to the Montreal Gazette

Fans are understandably concerned about the Canadiens’ slow start. It’s not just that they’ve only managed to win one game in four attempts, but many believe general manager Marc Bergevin had a mediocre off-season. Despite losing Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov, Bergevin, to his credit, did manage to acquire Jonathan Drouin, albeit at the cost of his only blue-chip prospect, defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.

Fan frustration is magnified by the fact the Canadiens are one of the richest teams in the league and have more than $8 million worth of unused cap space, placing them among lowest spenders in the NHL. It’s hard to convince fans to dish out hard earned money for one of the most expensive tickets in the league, especially if the product on the ice is subpar.

On the surface, it seems the Habs are destined to be a lottery team. But once you dig deeper into their numbers, it becomes clear that it’s not time to panic — yet.

After Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canadiens had put 112 even-strength shots on net, which leads the NHL. Forty-one of those 112 shots were of the high-danger variety, which also ranks No. 1 in the league. (High-danger chances are loosely defined as close-proximity shots, tips or rebounds as well as the amount of puck movement and screens preceding the shot.) The Habs also created 94 even-strength scoring chances, second only to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Despite starting the season 0-for-14, the Canadiens’ power play is showing signs of improvement. Last season, they created a paltry 215 scoring chances with the man advantage, which placed them firmly in last place among all NHL teams. That amounted to a little over two and a half power-play scoring chances per game, but this season the Habs are producing more than six power-play scoring chances per game.

If the Canadiens had a league average shooting percentage (usually around nine per cent) through the first four games, instead of their NHL-low 1.79 per cent, they’d have an additional nine goals to their credit.

The Artturi Lehkonen-Tomas Plekanec-Charles Hudon line has been dominant, accounting for over 68 per cent of both teams’ total shots while on the ice. They’ve only scored one goal, but there’s no doubt they’ve deserved more.

Carey Price has a .899 save percentage, which is unfathomably low for a career .920 goaltender. I guarantee it will significantly improve.

There are many reasons not to panic once you realize the Canadiens are outshooting their opponents by a wide margin. If this streak of bad luck had come in mid-January, it would not be cause for alarm. Teams go through tough stretches, and in the Canadiens’ case that tough stretch has very unfortunate timing.

Of course, the numbers only give you an indication that there are encouraging signs within the team. In watching the games, one thing becomes very apparent: the Canadiens struggle to exit their own end quickly while maintaining possession of the puck. The loss of Markov and the lack of a replacement puck-moving defenceman is clearly an issue. When you exit your own zone slowly, it gives opposing defenders and goaltenders a chance to prepare for the attack, thus mitigating the value of the high quantity of shots and chances the Canadiens are generating.

The same issue plagues the Canadiens during the power play. Their static setup is giving opposing goalies far too much time to get ready for the inevitable Shea Weber point shot, which leads to very few scoring chances when goaltenders are moving. A moving goaltender is a vulnerable goaltender, and this is an area where the Canadiens must immediately improve.

Quick passes and a heightened level of creativity would lead to more goals. Setting up for the perfect shot is no longer the best way to score during the man advantage. Weber might have the hardest shot in the NHL, but Montreal’s strategy is extremely predictable. Slotting Alex Galchenyuk at the right circle could alleviate some of the predictability issues because of his ability to take a one-timer shot, which forces opposing teams to do more than just defend Weber’s blast from the point.

But again, it’s not time to panic. It’s time for Claude Julien’s team to adjust. The Canadiens won’t keep scoring on less than two per cent of their shots throughout the season, and Price won’t be among the worst goalies in the league once all 82 games are played.

A slew of new players, especially on defence, means the team will need time to form chemistry. That’s not to say there aren’t evident issues within the roster, because there are.

An easy fix for the lack of controlled exits among defencemen could be found on the Laval Rocket. Jakub Jerabek — a first-team all-star in the KHL last season — would immediately inject much needed talent and puck-moving skills on defence, especially considering Mark Streit’s lack of speed has rendered his value to the club quite low.

The start to the 2017-18 season has been far from perfect, but if the results have you discouraged, take solace in the fact the Canadiens are producing some of the best numbers in the league, although there’s no denying they’re clearly lacking in the number that matters most: goals.

That will change.

Photo: Pierre Obendrauf/MONTREAL GAZETTE

255 Comments

  1. Davis says:

    I was missing watching the Habs the other night, so I decided to watch some other hockey games, and see if there were any bright prospects that Bergevin might use his cap space on. Started watching Dallas versus Nashville. Watched some pretty talented hockey players on Nashville: this fast-skating creative defense man named PK Subban, and this physically-intimidating Alexei Emelin. Then I noticed this hard-working play-maker on Dallas: Alexander Radulov. I thought they would be great additions to the Habs. Then I switched to the Tampa-Pittsburgh game, and the announcer was talking about this future superstar named Mikhail Sergachev, and I thought: wouldn’t he be a good fit on the blue line in Montreal? Not that I’m too worried, though, about the Habs weak defense and offense. They’ll do just fine because they have Carey Price to outplay the other team’s goalie. I mean, what are the odds that on the one night another team plays us their goalie gets hot and plays as well or better than Carey? I am sure that most goalies will save their best efforts for other teams. And if we make the playoffs, we know Carey can elevate his play and steal every single game. So thanks Mr Bergevin for thinking things through, but just in case you’re interested, consider that there is some fine talent out there to use your cap space on. Oh, and I wanted to wish Streit all the best as he moves on to the AHL. Anybody know how Markov is doing in the KHL?

  2. Gerry Pigeon says:

    Back to write another negative post ☺

    It is funny how upset some posters get when others are critical of their team, ownership, or management. I guess it is understandable it’s no fun to hear these things when you want to believe otherwise, but most of us have a pretty good grip on our team’s prospects, and I think most would agree that this team was looking very promising when PK, Max, Pleks, and Markov were younger and leading the charge in front of Carey.

    Now, MB has managed to sour the relationship with his third overall, once future 1C beyond repair, killing his trade value at the same time, and the hope most of us harboured has dimmed considerably. I can’t get over the feeling this team’s worse, even if they manage to turn this season around, and will be even worse in the next year or two. Molson is coming into view as a teflon owner looking at huge profits while his GM continues to manage this thing into the toilet. Hire a new GM already.

    • myron.selby says:

      I get the angst with Bergevin, although I’m not sure I share it … yet. I’m willing to wait for the first 20 or 30 games to give the defense a chance to come together before deciding on how this team is going to look. The addition of Schlemko and Jerabek could change the complexion of the d in very short order.

      Right now I think everyone is gripping their sticks a little too tight. Once the pucks start going in – and I really believe they will – things could turn around quickly.

      The one thing I really find unwarranted is the criticism of Geoff Molson. As far as I can tell he has ponied up for everything Bergevin has asked for. The staff is much larger than it’s ever been. Every department was staffed up. This is the first year they haven’t spent to the cap and the fact that they haven’t this year (yet) has nothing to do with saving money.

      To claim that Molson wants to make money from the Habs is kind of silly – I doubt there are very many team owners that run their clubs as charities. Other than the rare owner who can afford to own a team as a vanity project, sports teams are businesses which by definition are intended to make a profit.

      But I really believe that Molson wants to win the cup as much as any other Habs fan. The difference is in how to proceed to get there. At some point – since every GM is hired to be fired – Molson will replace Bergevin. I would suggest that right now he thinks MB is doing a good job. If the team seriously falls apart I don’t think Bergevin will survive it for long.

      I think it was Sam Pollock who said that the surest way to lose was to listen to the fans. It goes without saying, that every single one of us knows way more about both coaching and managing the Habs than any coach or GM they’ve ever had.

      As I say, I’m still on the fence about Bergevin. Some of the moves he’s made have been good, some not so good. I also have a sneaky feeling that Markov may have an out in his KHL contract to come back after the Olympics. We’ll see.

      If MB moves Galchenyuk without getting equivalent value in return, it will go a long way to jaundicing my view of him.

  3. Richard B says:

    I enjoyed reading this.
    It’s a great contrast to Boone’s usual glass is half empty point of view (or mostly empty). That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading Boone’s comments because I do.
    I’m glad someone still has some hope!
    Now could someone write an article on why Max Pac should be traded?

    Richard B

  4. Dust says:

    Last year during the habs hot start to the year. People pointed to their PDO stating that it wouldn’t last and the habs were actually bad.

    This year during the very early to the season bad start by the habs you could look at PDO and surmise that the habs are playing good and will turn things around. However, that doesn’t fit the hipster narrative so PDO is now a meaningless stat and the habs are bad.

    I look forward to the habs turning things around.

  5. habswarrior says:

    I doubt very much that anyone would trade for Streit. Best thing to do is put him on waivers and then let him play for some Swiss team. Last thing they need is for him to go to Laval unless he is used to help coach the defensemen there.
    Last time the Habs started a season bad they caught fire after a few games and had a pretty good year. Hopefully the same thing happens or it wouldn’t be too bad if they crashed and burned and then got a good lottery pick.

  6. StanleyHab says:

    Yankees win…theeeeeeeeee Yankees win!

  7. Brinkley says:

    Mr Dumont – with all due respect CORSI numbers have little meaning to a team that is paper thin on talent AND – thanks to amazing management – seems to have an ever decreasing talent pool in their system every season.

    The master himself, Scotty Bowman said during the Habs Dynasty years…..”statistics are for losers”

  8. Max says:

    Andrighetto scores again.How many bicep curls do you think Bergevin and Timmins do every day? I’d say well over 2,000.

  9. PK says:

    Habs 6
    Leafs 4

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Fun Fact: Ron Maclean lived down the street from us.

    “Une équipe de hockey sur glace de l’île de Mont-Royal va gagner la Coupe de Lord Stanley à 24 reprises dans le 20e siècle et trois fois au cours du 21e siècle.”

    – Nostradamus, 1552

    • Brinkley says:

      Ron Maclean living down the street from you was fun? For who?

      • PK says:

        🙂

        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

        Fun Fact: Ron Maclean lived down the street from us.

        “Une équipe de hockey sur glace de l’île de Mont-Royal va gagner la Coupe de Lord Stanley à 24 reprises dans le 20e siècle et trois fois au cours du 21e siècle.”

        – Nostradamus, 1552

  10. theox_8 says:

    Why you ask ? Because MB is not even remotely close to being a fan of Galchenyuk and the last thing he would ever want to do is get his good buddy on a cheap contract . MB is not building a contender nor will he ever. I seriously question his hockey IQ and motives for this team after listening to all the pressers he’s had and excuses year after year . MB is probably the only player in NHL history to throw the puck into his own net …

    • deggy24 says:

      MB is a kid that was a star and became a pud when he moved through the professional hierarchy. Handsome and suave he parlayed his history and handsomeness to get a job post playing. Further leveraged his francophone heritage and association with the Black Hawks to become tthe crony idiot that we know now. He has reverted to greaseball image (had to get rid of MT who owned him in greaeballness) and similar drama recently. Now with his massive pipes, and MT gone, becomes the master of the universe. I say get rid of this pos.

      We’ve got a great goalie, why don’t we run and gun and win games 4-3?

      • SteverenO says:

        I agree. While I am not a fan of shots on goal and other so called “possession metrics”– Its always nice to read an article that makes fact based arguments rather than Jack Todd type of “hero and zero” bs based solely on his own opinions.

        I wonder why no one is publishing the actual time of possession data. it would be interesting to learn the amount of time each time is in true possession of the puck, and even greater if it could be broken down by shift, and/or by line trios and defense pairs.

        if the Habs paid only 4.8 million for the coaches salary, the leftover 200K would easily pay for a couple of people to track and report on that type of valuable information. The still -overpaid coach could then at least make personnel decisions based on something concrete rather than on his “instincts”.

        Similar to football, time of possession would/should be an important indicator of which team actually “carried the play.”

        regards,

        Steve O.

        • Habfan17 says:

          I agree, I would like to see actual time of possession, broken down by zone, time spent cycling in corners, time spent fighting for pucks along the boards, time actually controlling the puck, making passes.

          I think we would be shocked at how much time is wasted cycling, not generating any scoring chances. It is sine to say they have the puck, but if it is time spent doing nothing more than skating circles in the corner, than what is accomplished?

          Habfan17

  11. HNS says:

    Have seen this movie before. It stunk the first time.

  12. Max says:

    Bergevin and his little pal Timmins both have really big arms.They must work out together.

  13. Al Burtlap says:

    I’d like to give credit to the Gazette for surveying their users, then acting on the results. I like the addition of Marc Dumont and his views to HIO and if I recall, some level of analytics was a piece of feedback they had received.

    I don’t always agree with M. Dumont’s opinions but I do find them thought provoking and well stated.

    Well done HIO and welcome M. Dumont, it would be cool if you added your voice to the commentariat.

  14. Max says:

    Yakupov looking real good so far.Third goal of the season tonight and flying all over the ice.Why couldn’t Bergevin throw 750 at the kid for a year and stick him with his old pal Galchenyuk.

  15. PK says:

    I think that the Habs are going to be OK.

    However, what is going on with Galchenyuk?
    CJ should put him on with 67 and 92, see what happens.

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    “Une équipe de hockey sur glace de l’île de Mont-Royal va gagner la Coupe de Lord Stanley à 24 reprises dans le 20e siècle et trois fois au cours du 21e siècle.”

    – Nostradamus, 1552

  16. nazzy says:

    The mighty leafs lose tonight, the juggernaut stopped in its tracks by the surprising Devils. Habs just might have a chance against the greatest show on ice.

  17. StevieM61 says:

    Based on HAL 9000’s comments above, I shall now return my lawnchair to its rightful place along the parade route.
    But for some reason I cannot open the pod bay doors.
    Damn

    Bullet holes in my mirrors . . . .

  18. powerplay says:

    Whats up with the Maple Leafs tonight?

  19. RightNyder says:

    If we can’t score more than one against the Loafs, then the alarm really needs to sound.

  20. ProHabs says:

    Do the Habs not have any pro scouts or are they just terrible at their jobs. How do you sign a guy and then a month later want to trade him. Could the pro scouts not see that he was done.

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/source-canadiens-trying-trade-defenceman-mark-streit/

    • Ozmodiar says:

      They’d have to trade their pro scout first. Then trade streit to that same team.

      There can’t be a market for a player like that. The best offer would be “put him on waivers and we might do you a favor and take him”.

  21. FormalWare says:

    Emerging story of the young season: The “NEW” Jersey Devils.


    Montréal Canadiens: “Season after season under the same, low ceiling.” – D.M.

  22. LeaveTheCoachAlone says:

    Sorry i dont subscribe to whoever Marc Dumonts fancy analytics are paid by(probably Molson), I still go by my observations. Team still cant score, and now thanks to Marc “panic” Bergevin also cant defend.

    One knee jerk after another for a couple years now, has made this team a bottom dweller, they wont even contend for a playoff spot.

    The GM is lost, and has to go, and unfortunately a complete rebuild is now required…after the legs on some of these atrocious contracts wear down. 100 million dollars for a 30 year old goalie with pre existing conditions. 25 million dollars for a has been of a coach. Thats alot of smoked meat.

    Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to the level of duping the Habs organization are powerful at. When articles come out like these a week into the season, you know their sphincters are clenching, and are already in damage control to keep hope alive as to sell more merchandise. Total sleezeballz

  23. Ozmodiar says:

    “Before people hit the panick button there’s a few things to consider. David Schlemko.”

    this is where i laughed. sorry, Hobie, but, c’mon.

  24. Slack says:

    Marc Dumont content on HIO??

    Amazing.

    Kudos to the Gazette

  25. Max says:

    These certainly aren’t your father’s New Jersey Devils. Fun team to watch.

  26. Max says:

    Nice to see King Austin and the Blue Devils get taken down a notch so far tonight.They were all getting a bit too arrogant.

  27. fastfreddy says:

    I’m not pressing the Panic Button just yet,but my fingers are being pulled by the magnetic force that Panic Button. Somebody quickly pull the kill switch on that button or I won’t be held responsible.

  28. LeaveTheCoachAlone says:

    Well New Jersey has become my favorite club of the hour. Sweet 5 on 3 shortie!

  29. leafs stink says:

    We welcome Marc”s articles on HIO from here on in but what was written today does not does not give myself and many other hab fans any signs of optimism im sorry to say.

    Those stats mean nothing, there are deep problems with this organization from the top down and its fustrating to see the same problems get worse year after year with no end in site.

    We are not negative nellies and our posts have nothing to do about our daily lives!

    Watching the last 3 years plus the beginning of this season really bothers many of us hab fans to the point of being disgusted. We are the Montreal Canadiens Fans who know how hockey has to be played and game in game out were hoping that it happens but the product on the ice is crap, PERIOD!!

  30. PK says:

    The Leafs are coming back down to earth, the Habs will beat them on Saturday night.

    Where is the Whazzzup dude??

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    “Une équipe de hockey sur glace de l’île de Mont-Royal va gagner la Coupe de Lord Stanley à 24 reprises dans le 20e siècle et trois fois au cours du 21e siècle.”

    – Nostradamus, 1552

    • whazzzup says:

      The devils are better this year, fun fast game, we got 1 period left to tie it up.
      See you Saturday

      I may have lived beside ken Dryden once but now I’m in the center of the hockey universe

      • PK says:

        Full marks for showing up on a Habs site.
        It is going to be a decade of feuding cousins, now that Toronto has a half-decent team.

        _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

        “Une équipe de hockey sur glace de l’île de Mont-Royal va gagner la Coupe de Lord Stanley à 24 reprises dans le 20e siècle et trois fois au cours du 21e siècle.”

        – Nostradamus, 1552

  31. zorro says:

    Wow! NJ scores while 2 men down, never have I seen that before.
    Gotta be the Leafs

  32. Hobie says:

    Before people hit the panick button there’s a few things to consider. David Schlemko. I’d like to see this guy in the lineup. Is he PK Subban or Bobby Orr, no, but he should stabilize things. All this talk about needing a super fast and skilled defence is being way over exaggerated. The Habs are getting a TON of shots regardless and the league worst shooting percentage won’t last forever.

    If Schlemko can help the defence, that leaves Bergevin the option of using his $8.5 in cap space to trade for a bigtime forward. Who we give up, maybe a 1st round pick in next year’s draft and a player, your guess is as good as mine.

    Pacioretty and Drouin will start lighting it up anytime, Hudon and Lehkonen can’t possibly go much longer without the puck going in, they’ve had a ton of high quality shots.

    I think the team has what it takes to hang around the top three in the Atlantic and will get a significant boost once an opening appears for Bergevin to pull the trigger and acquire another bigtime forward with all that extra cap space.

    • ProHabs says:

      I honestly think that cap space is really useless now. It might come in handy near the deadline but I think it will be too late for this team to make the playoffs by then.

      The summer months was the time to spend that cap space money. Once October hits, teams have their roster set and very little movement is made. There are hardly any trades in the NHL at all anymore until deadline week. There is no reason to think that just because the Habs have cap space, that all of a sudden a hockey trade is going to be made during the season.

      I actually really miss those days were GM’s would pull the trigger on a trade during the season. It just doesn’t happen anymore. Bergevin missed the boat on spending his money. I hope I am wrong but I don’t see the cap space being a big advantage at this point.

      • Hobie says:

        I agree with some of your post. You feel it might be too late by the time a trade is made, I’m leaning towards us being good enough prior to be in a playoff spot. We’ll see.

        If Bergevin has that much space at the deadline he could potentially bring in a slew of players.


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