How the Habs can create more scoring chances

How the Habs can create more scoring chances

The Montreal Canadiens employ tactics that don’t serve them very well in the scoring department. We’ve seen it for the last two years, and the same problems that have been pointed out before have persisted in this preseason.

That the problems are the same is why it’s not “just preseason hockey”, and nothing worth talking about. In the same way you evaluate a player when they’re trying to make the club in preseason, you can evaluate a team’s tactics as they attempt to prepare for 82 regular season games.

The Canadiens’ problems offensively actually start in the defensive zone, namely, they spend far too much time there. It’s not that the Canadiens are poor defenders in general, like Tomas Plekanec said when asked during the NHL media tour, this team is very aggressive without the puck. Unfortunately, they’re puck management once they’ve won the puck is suboptimal.

Habs preseason exits

The Canadiens’ default move is to dump the puck out of danger, which hurts them in many ways. First of all, studies from people like Jen Lute-Costella and Olivier Bouchard have found that between 66% and 75% of successful dump outs result in not only your opponent getting the puck, but re-entering your zone (You can listen to Jen talk about that here). Secondly, you are cheating yourself out of chances generated off the rush, which are usually of higher quality than chances of the cycle. More broken plays off of dump outs leads to more dump ins, more energy expended on forechecking to get the puck, less time actually making plays.

Having a poor breakout of your own zone has a cascading effect on everything you do to create offence. When asked about controlled entries or exits before, Michel Therrien has always answered that teams have to take what they’re given, yet nearly every other team transitions better out of their own zone than the Habs do. Do teams just play them tougher? That doesn’t make much sense. In actuality, you have to set the tone yourself, taking what other teams give you is a great way to be easily defended.

The thing is, it shouldn’t be difficult for a coaching staff to design a better breakout at this level, and unless you believe the Canadiens are particularly weak at forechecking as well (which isn’t true based on our data), the Habs opponents have basically all figured it out, outside of the ECHL lineup the Blackhawks iced in Montreal.

Opponents preseason exits

The Habs’ opponents in preseason have exited their defensive zone with control of the puck a full five percentage points more often than the Habs have (45.3% of the time to 40.3% of the time). Unless all of the opponents iced stronger lineups than the Canadiens did, which is blatantly not the case, this comes down to a coaching issue, and one that has persisted for far too long.

If the Canadiens hope to be Stanley Cup contenders, this is the single most important hurdle they need to overcome. It’s more important than the power play, or who plays centre. Fix this problem, and everything gets a little easier.

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6 Comments

  • Jeremy Sep 30, 2015 Reply

    These stats on carry outs/dump outs are great! Two things, some error bars would be nice given the small sample. The second is that in a game with 70 zone exits, the 5% difference translates to 3.5 more controlled zone exits (45.3% vs 40.3%). Is 3.5 more controlled exits a big deal? It would be nice to be equal or to have more controlled zone exits for sure but is a difference of 3.5 a big enough problem to say it’s the most important problem or a more important problem than the PP? Thanks!

    • Andrew Berkshire Sep 30, 2015 Reply

      Yes, 3.5 is a huge deal. The impact is essentially giving up 3.5 more scoring chances against, and giving up 3.5 scoring chances yourself. A 7 scoring chance swing in a single game is gigantic.

  • Simon Ledsham Sep 30, 2015 Reply

    To sum up this great article: #firetherrien

  • James Oct 01, 2015 Reply

    I am surprised by what you present here. The reason for my surprise is that whenever Bergevin speaks about a defenceman that he has acquired or has called up he also mentions that “he has a good first pass.” He has mentioned that when he acquired Gilbert and even when speaking about Pateryn. The only defender that doesn’t seem to have that ability is Emelin. The importance of transitional play and controlled exits seems to fit team’s skill set and it is recognized at least by MB so I am surprised by this article.

    • Andrew Berkshire Oct 01, 2015 Reply

      The Habs have a very skilled defence, they’re just conditioned to make the wrong plays.

  • Jeremy Oct 01, 2015 Reply

    Regarding my previous comment, you guys must have a stat for how many controlled exits turn into scoring chances. I doubt every controlled exit turns into a scoring chance as you’re suggesting. Unless I misunderstood your comment.

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