Montreal Canadiens fans were more surprised than anyone.
A playoff berth? Sure, okay.
Sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning? Well, Steven Stamkos was still sort of hurt.
Taking out the Boston Bruins? Um…whoa.
Pushing the New York Rangers to six games? No one predicted that at all.
May 14, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Montreal Canadiens goalieCarey Price
(31) makes a block during the third period against the Boston Bruins in game seven of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The unexpected success was fun. But, here’s the problem.
Hope for next season comes at a Price. A Carey Price, to be exact.
Let’s take a closer look at how the heck les Canadiens pulled off their unbelievable playoff run.
Puck Possession be Damned
Brendan Shanahan and the Toronto Maple Leafs have helped pushed advanced stats in hockey into the spotlight this summer.
The Leafs, in typically brash fashion, hired every stats guy they could find this summer; new assistant-GMs Kyle Dubas and Brandon Pridham, Darryl Metcalf of extraskater.com, blogger/stats aficionado Cam Charron, and baseball-analyst Rob Pettapiece.
Though the Canadiens have been slow to embrace analytics, no hockey fan can avoid the discussion of advanced stats.
So, what do the advanced stats say about the Canadiens success last season? Well, the success sure wasn’t because of their skaters.
This puck-possession stat measures if a team has controlled the play in a game. Last season, the Canadiens ranked 21st in the NHL with a Corsi of 48.1%.
For comparison, the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings registered a Corsi of 57.1%, ranking first in the league.
When games are decided by one goal, one shot, or one save, giving up the puck 10% more than other teams is a recipe for disaster.
This analytic is similar to Corsi. However, this stat eliminates blocked shots (unthreatening) and shots taken when the score in the game isn’t close (unimportant).
How do the Habs fare here?
The Montreal Canadiens registered a FFc% of 48.4, ranking 22nd in the NHL. When the game was hanging in the balance, the Canadiens were more likely to be without the puck. Again, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Last but not least, DZFO%
Defensive Zone Faceoff Percentage (DZFO%) is an important metric. Teams that tend to start the play with a faceoff in their own zone tend to give up more shots, scoring opportunities, and goals.
The Montreal Canadiens were one of those teams. Ranking 27th in the NHL, the Habs DZFO% was 34.5%.
Compare that to Chicago’s league leading 27.9% DZFO%. That’s a staggering difference.
The Montreal Canadiens started the play in their own end more often than any other playoff team last year. Talk about stressful hockey.
So, what was the secret to success for the Montreal Canadiens?
Despite all these awful advanced stats, the Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs last year. Heck, they marched all the way to the Conference Finals. How did the Habs do it?
Take a guess.
Really think about it. I’ll wait here.
Did you say Carey Price? Did you yell the name at your screen because I’ve been leading up to this point for 500 words?
Well, you nailed it. Carey Price beat the advanced possession stats. Let’s take a peek at how he did that.
"“Coming off of one of the brightest seasons of his strong career, big things will be expected from Price next season and beyond. With a strong goaltender, the Habs have a lot of leeway with how they form the rest of their roster.” – Chris Peters @ CBSsports describing just how good Price is"
The Usual Stats
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By conventional stats, Carey Price was a top-tier goalie last season. He ranked at/around the top 5 in every important category. But, there’s more to his story.
Apr 25, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) makes a save during the second period. Montreal wins 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Carey Price’s GSAA Trumps Advanced Possession Stats
Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) is a new measure that captures how many goals a goalie prevents/allows compared to the average NHL netminder. Check the full description here.
Semyon Varlamov was last year’s top goalie in GSAA, saving 27.45 goals more than the average goalie (Joey MacDonald, for example) would have stopped. Number two on the list? Tuukka Rask at 26.4 GSAA.
Number three? That was Carey Price.
Yep, despite all the poor possession stats. Price’s GSAA was 23.51. Those 23 goals he saved that the average goalie would have allowed made all the difference for the Montreal Canadiens.
While the Montreal Canadiens have been slow to embrace advanced stats, they may have no choice but to create an analytics department soon. Digging into the deeper stat measures would help reveal just how important and capable Price is. It may also reveal the problem with relying so heavily on one man to save the team.
Who knows, maybe Michel Therrien would feel a little more comfortable letting Subban take his chances on offense knowing just how above-average Carey Price is.
What do you think, Habs fans? Do the advanced stats explain the success of the Montreal Canadiens?