Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Canadiens Win Possible:

Positives From The Statsbooks

Been reading around a bit on the playoffs. There have been a lot of keys to the Canadiens and Bruins victories floated around. One common theme I see coming up again and again is the fact the Canadiens must win a game in Boston to win.

Yesterday, I indulged in one of my other passions – football (soccer, that is). I watched one of the most amazing sporting contests I have seen in years – Chelsea vs. Liverpool in the Champion's League. Coming into the game, Liverpool were in a massive hole (think 8th seed coming in on a losing streak). They had to win at Stamford Bridge (no easy task), they also had to score 3 goals in doing it.

If you know a little bit about footie, you know that games with 3 goals are rare, games with 3 goals from a single team are rarer still.

Funny then that the commentator, right before starting on the game said he wanted to clear a few things up – with the facts. "The common thinking, he said, was that Liverpool must score early to have a chance at scaling the mountain". "Not so, he said, Liverpool can score those 3 whenever they want".

The parallel to the Canadiens is right there. The fact is the Canadiens need to win 4 games to get to the next round. The fact, given the home ice situation, is that the Habs must win at least once in Boston. Nowhere does it say when this win should occur.

I'll stand by this. The Canadiens cannot pin their hopes on a win in the first two games. They cannot let a failure to do so derail them. Getting to 1-1 or 2-2 in this series will be a moral boost, but the only important number is 4. Win 4, don't lose 4. Just the same, winning a game in the first two is no more an indicator of victory this year than it was last year.

Stats to encourage

When I was gathering information on this series, I came across a few interesting stats.

You might remember I touched on the Habs PP resurgence earlier this season. If you look at the rankings for the season, the Canadiens show the 13th best PP in the league at 19.2%. If you take away games 1-38, they actually had a 24% rate to approach their top rating of the past two years.

Boston for their part had a torrid start. At one point midway through the season, they had the best PP and PK, best GF and GA. No longer. I don't have intermediate stats, but that's enough to know they did worse over the past 4 months than the Canadiens did on the PP.

There aren't many statistical categories you can look at to pick up your spirits in Montreal. Record when leading after one period, though, is certainly one. The Habs are a mind-boggling 24-2-2 when they establish a first period lead (a rare enough event – 28 occurrences this season). It puts them at the head of the class.

Boston carried the lead into the second 6 more times than us, but only won 3 more. So the Habs are actually tighter at protecting a lead, if you can believe it. The slight hiccough is that Boston actually won 10 out of 19 games they were themselves trailing after 1. I'll ignore that...

1 goal games
Another stat I dug out to make us look competitive: 1 goal games. Montreal was involved in 39 games settled by 1 goal, Boston 38. Montreal put together a winning 20-8-11 record for 51 points. Boston didn't do quite as well, playing sub-500 hockey with 18 wins and 46 points.

Given the direct applications of one-goal records to playoff hockey, Montreal will be happy to be more proficient in tight situations.

Based on these random stats, it seems the keys to the Canadiens winning, among other things are to play tight, don't let the Bruins run away with; and if possible take a lead into the second. Nothing too groundbreaking there, but it'll do for now...

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