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Sizing up the (official!) nemeses: Montreal Canadiens

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The Canadiens have had a fairly rough go of things this year, but is there reason for optimism for them as they head into the tournament?

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

[Ed. note: if you’re reading this, hello! The Flyers have ripped through the round robin and are about to begin their first-round series against these very Montreal Canadiens. We’ll have much more content and analysis to come on this series before it starts and throughout the series, but for now, here are our unedited thoughts on Les Habitants back from late July, just before the season got going again. Ignore the part where I basically said that Carey Price isn’t good any more. Enjoy! — Kurt]


With the play-in round looming, we continue our look at each of the Flyers’ possible playoff opponents. We’ve already checked in with the Blue Jackets, the Rangers, and the Islanders; today, we examine les Canadiens des Montreal.

Montreal Canadiens

Their season, in 100 words:

Sorry, wrong season. Anywho! Montreal had a very quiet offseason, and expectations for them were not high coming in. They actually got out to a pretty solid start, with a number of big wins early in the year, but an eight-game skid around Thanksgiving and another one right after Christmas have had them playing catch-up for most of the time since. Their play-driving numbers have actually been excellent all year, but they’re not great finishers, and Carey Price doesn’t seem like he’s what he once was. Also, they have a lot of ex-Flyers. Weal? Folin? Weise? Have fun with that.

Team-Level Numbers

Team Performance: Montreal Canadiens

Measure Full Season Since All-Star Break
Measure Full Season Since All-Star Break
Games 71 21
Points Percentage 50.00% 52.60%
Total Goal Differential (Non-SO) -12 -8
Goals For % (5-on-5) 50.87% 51.85%
On-Ice xG For per 60* 2.66 2.63
On-Ice xG Against per 60* 2.26 2.01
On-Ice xG % (5-on-5)* 54.14% 56.69%
PDO (5-on-5) 99.17 99.06
Power Play Goals / xG For per 60 5.89 / 5.92 3.36 / 5.13
Penalty Kill Goals / xG Against per 60 7.49 / 7.3 7.27 / 6.96

* 5-on-5 xG numbers are score/venue-adjusted. All statistics courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.

Projected lineup (courtesy of Daily Faceoff):

Tomas Tatar - Philip Danault - Brendan Gallagher

Jonathan Drouin - Nick Suzuki - Joel Armia

Paul Byron - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Artturi Lehkonen

Jordan Weal - Max Domi - Dale Weise

Ben Chiarot - Shea Weber

Victor Mete - Jeff Petry

Xavier Oullet - Christian Folin

Carey Price

Charlie Lindgren

(Full Phase 4 roster can be found here.)

What’s worked: The Canadiens have mostly got by this year on the strength of their team play at 5-on-5. They’ve been one of the best play-driving teams throughout the year by most underlying on-ice measures out there, and they’d managed to get even better in that area down the stretch before the season stopped. There’s pretty solid depth here both up front and on the back end; you’d be hard-pressed to say that this group has many stars (we’ll get to that), but there aren’t many real weaknesses in that group of skaters there.

They’ve got exciting young forward talent in their lineup, and while it feels like a group that’s a couple of years away from really being something, the likes of Nick Suzuki, Joel Armia, and Max Domi are doing a solid job behind their top line of Tomas Tatar, Philip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher. And on defense, Flyers legend Shea Weber (who has finally passed the halfway point of the contract Paul Holmgren gave him!) is still excellent, and he and Jeff Petry make up one of the league’s better one-two punches on the right side on defense. At the end of the day, Claude Julien is certainly getting a lot out of this group, and you get the sense they’re going to be a pain in the ass to play against even if you get the better of them.

What hasn’t: The very ends of the ice. In net, Carey Price has played in almost every game for the Canadiens this year. His standing in the eyes of the players around the league is still quite high, and he hasn’t been bad this year (save percentage a bit below league-average), but with the team the Canadiens have built and with the money he gets paid, the Habs really need him to be CAREY PRICE, and he’s kind of just been ... a goalie. The lead goalie on a team that was 25th in the league in all-situations save percentage (via Evolving-Hockey). That’s not gonna cut it.

And up front, while there are a lot of guys who can play, it’s tough to find many real offensive threats that are finishing these chances. Tomas Tatar has broken out with 61 points in 68 games, but if your lead offensive weapon is Tomas Tatar, does that say good things for the rest of your lineup? And what do we make of the fact that their power play has been bad for most of the year by most available measures, and got even worse as the season dragged on? The Canadiens are 26th in the league in shooting percentage, both at 5-on-5 and in all situations. There may be some bad luck baked into that — there almost certainly is to some extent — but the Canadiens probably just aren’t a team that’s going to wow you with their offense.

How they fared against the Flyers this year: Not bad. Not great, but not bad. The two teams played three contests against one another and each collected four points in those contests. The Flyers had two dramatic overtime victories over the Canadiens back in November; in the first, they peppered Carey Price with over 40 shots in regulation but had to go to overtime tied at 2 before Sean Couturier finally beat him on a fairly harmless shot from distance, while a few weeks later in Montreal the Flyers played a pretty sloppy game but won in the extra session after Ivan Provorov just Went Ahead And Did That. The Canadiens would return the favor a bit in a game in Philadelphia in January, beating the Flyers 4-1 in an effort that led Alain Vigneault to call bullshit after the game, in his own kind of way.

First-round opponent: The Pittsburgh Penguins. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Back when the NHL was talking about the format of its reset and it became clear that the Penguins and Canadiens were probably going to square off against one another, stories started leaking out about how the Penguins didn’t want to be stuck in a short series against Price, which ... seems silly? As we’ve discussed, even though Price clearly has the respect of the players in this league, his performance of late has hardly been unassailable. And not to mention, as our friends over at Pensburgh did when this rumor was picking up steam ... most teams in the playoffs have good goalies, or at the very least one capable of going on a run long enough to steal a series.

No, the reason a Canadiens/Pens series — one which, odds-wise, would pretty clearly tilts towards the fifth-seed Penguins — could be interesting has to do with the Habs’ style of play, which as mentioned would have to consist of them controlling the run of play against a Pens team that certainly has more firepower than they do. Is it possible? Could be. The Pens’ Expected Goals For percentage in their games after the All-Star break was a rough 45.1%, compared to the Canadiens’ 56.7%. It isn’t that hard to see Montreal forcing Pittsburgh to rely on a heavy dose of counterattacking and leaning on their stars to win. Which they’re certainly capable of doing, but it could be a sneaky-fun series to watch. It could also be infuriatingly frustrating. Hockey!

Are they a threat? I mean ... I guess? They are probably better than the average 12th seed in a conference in a given year, and with their underlying play and the lingering possibility that Price can uncork some brilliance, there’s a high-ceiling team lurking around there somewhere. But it is going to take someone, and probably someones (plural), finding and flipping a switch that they just didn’t in the regular season. They’re probably going to be able to hang with Pittsburgh, but it’s tough to see them outright beating them, and whoever they’d face in the second round, without some improvements from what they were during the regular season.