Lessons The Canadiens Can Learn From NHL Playoff Teams
With the 2023 playoffs in full swing, the Montreal Canadiens have an opportunity to analyze what it takes to win in the playoffs. Another way of putting it is that they need to avoid becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Though the Canadiens are far removed from a potential Stanley Cup run, there are valuable lessons to be learned regarding the teams still vying for the league championship.
We often discuss the value of having strong underlying numbers in hockey.
Generally speaking, controlling the shots in a game usually leads to wins, and that’s why you tend to see the term ‘CF%’ thrown around throughout the regular season.
But it takes more than just shots to win in the NHL.
There has to be a certain balance between quantity and quality, which is why we also pay close attention to the percentage of high-danger scoring chances (HDCF%) controlled by various teams. It’s a crucial number that gives us insight as to the location of the scoring chances.
Three of the top five HDCF% teams in the NHL this postseason are still in the running for Lord Stanley’s Cup: the Dallas Stars, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Vegas Golden Knights.
However, to understand exactly how sustainable the scoring chances created by NHL teams will be in the future, we need turn to another important metric: expected goals for (xGF%). It weighs things such as shot location, quality, type, and more. It’s the metric that is most often used in long-term projections.
Four of the top five teams in xGF through the playoffs are still active: the Stars, the Golden Knights, the Carolina Hurricanes, and Edmonton Oilers. The remaining team is the New Jersey Devils, who were also among the top five teams in HDCF%.
There’s more to creating a great team than being lucky at the Draft, but there’s something to be said about the value of having a game-changing presence in the lineup.
Connor McDavid cannot be cloned, but players like Leon Draistil, Matthew Tkachuk, and Roope Hintz can be drafted outside of the first-overall selection. Simply put, given Juraj Slafkovsky’s tumultuous rookie season, the Canadiens absolutely have to land a dominant player at the upcoming Draft, especially when we consider it’s one of the deepest drafts in recent history.
Matthew Tkachuk through 2 rounds
— 5 Goals
— 16 Points
— 11 EVP (1st in NHL)
— +12 Even Strength Goal Differential (2nd in NHL)
— 10 Penalties Drawn (1st in NHL)
— 42 Hits
9.5m for 7 more years after this one. pic.twitter.com/phH31QdYga
— Big Head Hockey (@BigHeadHcky) May 13, 2023
But talent alone won’t get the job done.
The Seattle Kraken don’t necessarily have the most talented lineup. As it stands, they only have two players who have earned more than 10 points in the playoffs, Yanni Gourde and Jordan Eberle.
And yet, they’ve already knocked out the reigning Stanley Cup Champions in the first round, and are entrenched in a hard-fought second-round series with the Dallas Stars.
Their secret? First off, they’re one of the most intense teams in recent memory. During almost every shift you’ll witness Kraken players apply a relentless forecheck, which flusters opponents while robbing them of all momentum.
🎶 IT'S A KARTYE IN THE U-S-A 🎶 pic.twitter.com/PoijNCJ7NX
— x – Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) May 14, 2023
They look like they have 12 Rafael Harvey-Pinards in the lineup, which means they tend to outwork their opponents by a significant margin.
They’re also incredibly fast in transition, turning their impressive defensive prowess into scoring chances on a regular basis, yet another area of weakness for the Canadiens.
#SeaKraken capitalize on the momentum of an aggressive penalty kill and Eberle feeds Beniers to finish on the odd-man rush
— Alison (@AlisonL) May 14, 2023
We’re oversimplifying things by saying the Canadiens simply need to add elite talent, relentless play, and fantastic speed in transition to their arsenal.
But they can start taking steps to improve their long-term Stanley Cup odds. We’ve already discussed the importance of drafting an elite player at the 2023 Draft, but in the meantime, the club can focus on their current biggest downfall: speed in transition.
Kirby Dach and Nick Suzuki are fantastic at controlling the pace of the play, but they’re some of the few players on the roster with can make a positive impact.
Beyond the forwards, we can also consider that the vast majority of scoring plays start roughly 200 feet away, in the defensive zone.
Finding players with a strong penchant for quick puck retrieval and controlled distribution, as we see from Mike Matheson, is key, and those players must be given developmental priority over their counterparts.
EELI GOALVANEN PUTTING IN THE WORK pic.twitter.com/JzWT1hYINT
— x – Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) May 14, 2023
All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick
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I watched the video with Adams Nichols and he said stick positioning. IMO it body positioning, to be able to take the body rather than wave the stick . Halt momentom for even 2 secs. Too many stick penalties Take the body and retrieve the puck