The Boston Bruins are set to face off against the Montreal Canadiens on the road tonight. It is the second meeting between to the two teams this season. What can statistics tell us about the game tonight?
Nuance In Hockey Numbers
There’s nothing more enjoyable than preparing for a hockey match by flipping through the statistics and finding some interesting revelations. Today, that exercise is even more fun with all the advanced statistics at our finger tips. I really enjoy marrying the eye test with statistics. My first aha moment in hockey statistics was understanding the paradox of Guy Carbonneau’s defensive-specialist reputation and underwhelming plus/minus, when compared to his teammates. Take into account that Carbonneau’s shifts mostly mirrored the best scorers in history including Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux; his statistics became much more clear. With some context, the complexity of hockey and performance measurement opened up to me like a big black hole. At that moment, I realized how complex hockey really is. Assessing hockey with statistics is somewhat of a fools game. So let’s dive in!
Canadiens Not Just Any Opponent
The Bruins were one of the best teams in The NHL last season. They ranked third in the league in points percentage against teams that made the playoffs, and they also performed really well against teams that did not make the playoffs with a .728 points percentage. But they had some trouble with the Montreal Canadiens going 2-2 in four games with a goals differential of plus-1. Earlier this month, the Bruins lost 5-4 in Montreal.
Hockey is a momentum sport. There is a lot that goes into wins and losses other than skill. To this degree, the Bruins are playing a Canadiens team that has stumbled lately and there is a degree of desperation in the air having played Carey Price in back-to-back games while walking away with only one point. One could easily assess the Canadiens as down and out; an easy opponent. Or as desperate, hungry wolves; a very difficult opponent.
10.99 And 9.98
No, these are not competing prices for beer at the Bell Centre and TD Garden. They represent a massive advantage on the power play for the Bruins against the Canadiens tonight. The Bruins have one of the best power plays in the league scoring at a 10.99 goals per 60 mins, while the Canadiens penalty kill is one of the worst in The NHL allowing goals at a 9.98 goals per 60 mins rate.
The Canadiens rank as one of the lowest teams in the league at taking penalties; the Bruins will have to channel their inner ‘bad Bruins’ to make special teams a big part of this game.
15 and Zero
The Bruins power play is playing with fire. Recent history shows us that the Bruins power play is not only spectacularly good, it’s aggressive and risky. It’s just part of the accepted cost/benefit equation of high performance. Last season, the Bruins power play allowed a league high 15 shorthanded goals. This season they have allowed zero. Can they keep this up? Likely not, especially considering it does not seem as if any tactics have changed; they allow the most scoring chances against while on the power play at 11.49 scoring chances against per 60 mins.
Will it happen tonight? Likely not. The Canadiens are just above average in generating scoring chances on the penalty kill, and more importantly, they take (6.7 mins) and draw (6.7 mins) the fewest penalties per game; among the fewest in The NHL.
Anyone calling for #GoHabsGo to fire Claude Julien needs to either lay off the good stuff from their local pot shop or learn about hockey. Two of his best players injured. Price is not Price so far. They lack star power. The fact they are where they are is an achievement
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) November 24, 2019
Five-on-Five Versus Special Teams
If Claude Julien wants to keep his job (that’s a joke folks) he’ll want to keep this game at five-on-five. If you look a the chart below, it’s easy to see where each team’s strengths are in relation to the other.
Bruce Cassidy will want his team to kick them while they’re down, so to speak, especially considering the loss of Patrice Bergeron. A fast start and the first goal could go a long way in achieving a win.