Now that we've given the system until the New Year (like we said we would), I think it's time to air a grievance: this isn't at all how I thought this would work.
Currently, the Canadiens sit in 11th position for GAA in the league. Not bad, but consider where they'd be without two 0.920 save percentage goalies, as they are also 28th in the NHL in shots allowed per contest. Their total currently stands at 32.8 SA/G (which may sound like a miraculously low total considering the recent onslaughts).
Certainly some of the onus for this high shot total must fall at the feet of the penalty takers (or victims of Chris Lee, if you prefer), since the Habs have given up the most PPs in the league (193). However, that might slightly gloss over the fact that their ES play is actually the bigger contributor to their SA totals. in fact, the Habs are one of the elite teams at preventing shots on the PK (analyse that...), but would allow a massive 31.5 shots per contest if they were penalty free.
Given that Jacques Martin is supposedly in charge of organizing and plotting team strategy for the 5-on-5, I was wondering what on earth was going on. If we don't have possession stats, we certainly have eyes – and those tell me that the Habs trend (espcially lately has been to sit and wait for shots and chances to come). Perhaps the comfort of two good goalies prevents fretting over the defensive pitfalls of this approach, but a look at ES scoring shows that a little more possession for the good guys might help to pad a few leads, win a few more close games.
Chances for and against
As I said, we don't have possession stats per se, but we do have some proxies. One of the better proxies at even strength is the CORSI numbers. However, as you know, though i like the number, I find it often oversimplifies matters. After all, there are several ways to get a good CORSI number: play bad defensively but take a lot of shots (misses and blocked shots count for you), play really well defensively and take shots, play unbelievable defence and take barely more than average shots. In light of that, I like to present the whole story (i.e., chances for and against), and relate those to what the league is doing. I present the status quo for the Habs below, with shots for (SF), chances for (ChF), shots against (SA), chances against (CA), and the differences between offense and defence:
|NAME ||GP ||SFON/60 ||ChF/60 ||SAON/60 ||ChA/60 ||Sh Diff ||Ch Diff |
|Andrei Kostitsyn ||40 ||24.3 ||49.8 ||27 ||53.8 ||-2.7 ||-4 |
|Andrei Markov ||9 ||30.4 ||56.2 ||42.5 ||70.6 ||-12.1 ||-14.4 |
|Benoit Pouliot ||19 ||32.3 ||57.1 ||28.3 ||55.7 ||4 ||1.4 |
|Brian Gionta ||23 ||29.9 ||61.9 ||30.2 ||57.6 ||-0.3 ||4.3 |
|Geln Metropolit ||38 ||24.8 ||50 ||26.5 ||58.6 ||-1.7 ||-8.6 |
|Georges Laraque ||23 ||15 ||32.3 ||28.6 ||68.5 ||-13.6 ||-36.2 |
|Hal Gill ||30 ||20.9 ||45.6 ||28.5 ||57.1 ||-7.6 ||-11.5 |
|Jaroslav Spacek ||42 ||26.3 ||54.1 ||29.5 ||59.5 ||-3.2 ||-5.4 |
|Josh Gorges ||44 ||21.8 ||44.6 ||26.7 ||56.6 ||-4.9 ||-12 |
|Marc-Andre Bergeron ||37 ||24.5 ||53 ||27.8 ||56.2 ||-3.3 ||-3.2 |
|Matt D'Agostini ||29 ||20.4 ||48.1 ||27.9 ||55.4 ||-7.5 ||-7.3 |
|Max Pacioretty ||43 ||25.7 ||52.7 ||28.3 ||56.1 ||-2.6 ||-3.4 |
|Maxim Lapierre ||44 ||18.4 ||44.5 ||30.5 ||61.5 ||-12.1 ||-17 |
|Michael Cammalleri ||44 ||25 ||54.2 ||28.9 ||57.8 ||-3.9 ||-3.6 |
|Paul Mara ||34 ||22.3 ||49 ||30.7 ||59.4 ||-8.4 ||-10.4 |
|Roman Hamrlik ||37 ||25.1 ||52.4 ||26.4 ||55.8 ||-1.3 ||-3.4 |
|Ryan O'Byrne ||24 ||20 ||43.7 ||31.3 ||59.4 ||-11.3 ||-15.7 |
|Ryan White ||13 ||14.4 ||37.1 ||31.1 ||62.6 ||-16.7 ||-25.5 |
|Scott Gomez ||40 ||28.5 ||56.7 ||30.1 ||56.3 ||-1.6 ||0.4 |
|Sergei Kostitsyn ||19 ||21.8 ||44.2 ||31.2 ||59 ||-9.4 ||-14.8 |
|Tom Pyatt ||19 ||19.2 ||40 ||31 ||63 ||-11.8 ||-23 |
|Tomas Plekanec ||44 ||23.1 ||47.6 ||28.6 ||58.2 ||-5.5 ||-10.6 |
|Travis Moen ||44 ||24 ||46.5 ||28.8 ||57 ||-4.8 ||-10.5 |
|Top 10% NHL ||11-20% NHL ||21-40% NHL ||Average NHL ||61-80% NHL ||81-90% NHL ||Bottom 10% NHL |
As you can see, chances for with the Habs is a mixed bag. Gionta, Gomez, Pouliot and Markov generate top tier chances, while the offensive laggards (Laraque and co.), well, lag. I'm sure there's lots to be mined from the numbers and the relationships between them, but not today.
Chances against are more homgenous. They are all blue. It is systematic. This, for me, is most interesting. Once again, the bad players are bad. However, even the players we heap praise on for defensive awareness are allowing above average number of shots to be released from opponents' sticks.
Leaving the offensive stats behind, I delved deeper into the defensive numbers to try and figure out what is happening. I present the numbers for you to consider below for shots against (SA), missed shots against (MA), blocked shots (BF), chances against (ChA) and percentage of shots against making the net (SA%):
|NAME ||GP ||SAON/60 ||MAON/60 ||BFON/60 ||ChA/60 ||SA% |
|Andrei Kostitsyn ||40 ||27 ||11.4 ||15.4 ||53.8 ||50.2% |
|Andrei Markov ||9 ||42.5 ||13.7 ||14.4 ||70.6 ||60.2% |
|Benoit Pouliot ||19 ||28.3 ||13.7 ||13.7 ||55.7 ||50.8% |
|Brian Gionta ||23 ||30.2 ||13.2 ||14.2 ||57.6 ||52.4% |
|Geln Metropolit ||38 ||26.5 ||13.9 ||18.2 ||58.6 ||45.2% |
|Georges Laraque ||23 ||28.6 ||18.6 ||21.3 ||68.5 ||41.8% |
|Hal Gill ||30 ||28.5 ||13.4 ||15.2 ||57.1 ||49.9% |
|Jaroslav Spacek ||42 ||29.5 ||12.2 ||17.8 ||59.5 ||49.6% |
|Josh Gorges ||44 ||26.7 ||12.9 ||17 ||56.6 ||47.2% |
|Marc-Andre Bergeron ||37 ||27.8 ||11.7 ||16.7 ||56.2 ||49.5% |
|Matt D'Agostini ||29 ||27.9 ||9 ||18.5 ||55.4 ||50.4% |
|Max Pacioretty ||43 ||28.3 ||10.7 ||17.1 ||56.1 ||50.4% |
|Maxim Lapierre ||44 ||30.5 ||12.4 ||18.6 ||61.5 ||49.6% |
|Michael Cammalleri ||44 ||28.9 ||12.6 ||16.3 ||57.8 ||50.0% |
|Paul Mara ||34 ||30.7 ||12.3 ||16.4 ||59.4 ||51.7% |
|Roman Hamrlik ||37 ||26.4 ||12.2 ||17.2 ||55.8 ||47.3% |
|Ryan O'Byrne ||24 ||31.3 ||10.6 ||17.5 ||59.4 ||52.7% |
|Ryan White ||13 ||31.1 ||12.7 ||18.8 ||62.6 ||49.7% |
|Scott Gomez ||40 ||30.1 ||12.1 ||14.1 ||56.3 ||53.5% |
|Sergei Kostitsyn ||19 ||31.2 ||11 ||16.8 ||59 ||52.9% |
|Tom Pyatt ||19 ||31 ||13.1 ||18.9 ||63 ||49.2% |
|Tomas Plekanec ||44 ||28.6 ||12.4 ||17.2 ||58.2 ||49.1% |
|Travis Moen ||44 ||28.8 ||11.9 ||16.3 ||57 ||50.5% |
|Top 10% NHL ||11-20% NHL ||21-40% NHL ||Average NHL ||61-80% NHL ||81-90% NHL ||Bottom 10% NHL |
This table is most interesting for those who want to get to the bottom of the Jacques martin system, I think. Column by column, it's pretty consistently league average or below, or league average and above.
The breakdown of chances across the whole team seems to be summed up by lots of shots attempted against, an enormous amount blocked, many opponents forced to shoot wide, but still more than average shots getting to the net.
Shots against (as we noted earlier) is troubling, even if it doesn't result in goals 92% of the time. Most Habs are belowe the league average in preventing shots on their goal.
Blocked shots is an interesting category. It must be the only statistic in the league where the Canadiens could look like such a star outfit. No less than 12 Habs fall into the top 10% of the league in blocked shots at ES while they're on the ice. The rest are above average (only Pouliot, with his Wild numbers incorporated, spoils the whitewash). Missed shots is similar, if not quite as dominant, almost all Habs being above the league average.
Add up below average shot prevention, more than average missed shots and more than average blocked shots and you get the blue mess that follows in chances against. The numbers in that column are sub-optimal by most standards and some are downright abysmal (see >60 ChA/60).
It seems to me (and maybe to you as well, dear readers) that this is a bit of a red flag for the passive approach to defence that is currently being employed by Martin and his boys. While the defensive clogging of the slot is surely leading to some impressive blocked and missed shot totals, it seem to me that the Canadiens aren't perhaps negotiating the next part of the strategy very well at all – which should be making the shot a turnover by recovering the puck.
So, we've got to the bottom of the system (at least the one used so far). Allow the shot from the outside – block it or force the player to shoot wide – then recover the puck and start an attack. As a system it's not stupid, the team that seems to use it best this season is Pittsburgh who translate above average chances against into below average shots against. However, it must also be said that most teams we think of as defensive outfits don't trust this way of defending. New Jersey, Boston, Detroit, these teams all reduce chances overall and limit the number of shots that have to be blocked or forced wide.
In addition to the Penguins, there are players on the Habs who seem to get this system and can play it with some success. To me, these are the players that have warmer shades in the SA column and top rankings in the missed and blocked columns. The standouts seem to be Glen Metropoilt, Josh Gorges and Roman Hamrlik. All three players (and observation I think would back this up) play their position well and are good at jumping to retrieve the loose stuff after the initial chance.
Troublingly, the successes are outnumbered by the strugglers. Ignore Markov for now (he's had offense on the mind in his return), but do cast an eye to O'Byrne, Lapierre and Mara. These three players all allow 59 chances an hour or more. They are all on the ice for plenty of blocked shots and missed shots, but the sheer number of reloads they are allowing means they are also on the ice for a shot every 2 minutes or less.
Add to these players, Spacek, Gill, Gomez, Sergei Kostitsyn and even Gionta and we're in trouble.
When to change?
45 games into a season and many players appear on paper (and on TV) to be having significant trouble with a system that demands passivity, patience and then quickness to make it work properly. It begs the question, should Martin persist with this system.
If not, how late is too late to change? After all, it seems to be unravelling more than it is coming together at this point in the season. What's more, i think we've al seen enough proof that it doesn't work as well against good teams as it seems to against the Islanders.
If I were the coach, I'd be having a little think about all this.
I'd like to know what all of you think...