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Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens declined as Game 5 progressed

Canadiens
(Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

The New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 3-2 in overtime on Thursday. The Canadiens’ Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring at 12:07 in the first period. Jesper Fast tied it for the Rangers with a short-handed goal at 15:56. Twenty-four seconds later, the Canadiens took the lead on a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher. Rangers’ defenseman Brady Skjei scored with 1:32 remaining in the second period, tying the game at 2-2.

After a scoreless third period, the game went to overtime for the second time this series. Unlike the last overtime in Game 2, the Rangers were victorious thanks to a goal by Mika Zibanejad at 14:22. The Rangers now lead the Canadiens 3-2 in this series.

In the games that the Canadiens have been successful, they have focused on offensive generation as opposed to physicality. In Game 2, the Canadiens outshot the Rangers 58-38 while the Rangers outhit them 74-55. The Canadiens’ 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage of 57.14 exceeded the Rangers of 42.86, as did their high-danger Corsi for (14-7). The Canadiens won Game 2 by a score of 4-3 in overtime, and got stronger as the game progressed.

In Game 3, the Canadiens defeated the Rangers 3-1. Their 29 shots on goal exceeded the Rangers 21 shots, while again the Rangers outhit the Canadiens 41-31. Montreal’s 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage of 55.56 was superior to the Rangers’ 44.44% and they generated more high-danger Corsi for (11-6). However, unlike in Game 2, the Canadiens’ game weakened throughout. The Canadiens were able to come away with their second win of the series in this game largely because the Rangers put forth a stunningly lackluster effort.

The Rangers defeated the Canadiens in Game 4, by a score of 2-1. The Rangers managed to both outshot the Canadiens (32-24) as well as outhit them (43-25). The Canadiens’ 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage of 41.94 was lower than that of the Rangers (58.06). Additionally, the Rangers generated more high-danger Corsi for in this game (13-8). The Rangers’ play improved throughout this game, which helped them sustain the lead.

In Thursday’s Game 5, the Canadiens dominated the first half of the game. In the first period, they outshot the Rangers 16-9. In both the second and third periods, the Rangers and Canadiens tied for shots on goal per period (10 each in the second, seven each in the third). In overtime, the Rangers took over, outshooting the Canadiens 10-3.

By the conclusion of this game, the Rangers had a slight edge in their 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage (50.39 to 49.61) and the teams were tied with 11 high-danger shot attempts for and against.

 

In this game, the Canadiens outhit the Rangers 51-49. Twenty-five of the Canadiens’ hits were in the first period, which may explain why the Canadiens’ play declined as the game continued. Their style from the first period was simply not sustainable through the entirety of this game. As a result, the Rangers had the opportunity to even the total number of shots on goal (36 per team) in the third period and overtime; the Canadiens were unable to record a shot on goal in the third period until 10:11.

There were a number of elements the Canadiens could have improved to better sustain their lead and take the Game 5 win. The usage of Brendan Gallagher was one questionable decision made by Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien. Gallagher’s pesky style of play has frustrated the Rangers throughout this series. The officiating—or lack thereof—has been notable, and has given players like Gallagher more freedom to pursue their style of play. When his play has resulted in penalties against the Canadiens, the Rangers’ power play has not been a threat, having gone 0-for-15 in the series.

Instead of consistently pursing a matchup that would stifle his opponents—particularly since the Canadiens had last change in Game 5—Gallagher was used inconsistently, matching up against the line of Vesey-Stepan-Nash, the fourth line of Grabner-Lindberg-Fast and the Miller-Hayes-Zuccarello line. Both the Stepan and Lindberg lines focused on their offense and were not goaded by his diversions. As a result, Gallagher’s 5-on-5 Corsi against exceeded his Corsi for, and his relative Corsi for percentage was dismal (-18.21).

Players like J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello have reacted to Gallagher at many points in this series, resulting in stifled offensive performances and penalties taken. However, by drawing some of these penalties, Gallagher was injured for at least brief periods of play.  In order to succeed like he did in the first period when he scored, he has to balance his style of play to create space and generate offense by distracting opponents without risking injury.

Alexei Emelin made his first appearance in the series, and took the place of Brandon Davidson. Julien described Emelin as a “rugged defenseman,” and added that, when he coached against the Canadiens, his Bruins “kept their heads up when he was on the ice.” For a team that already boasts a number of players who play a physical game, adding another was a questionable decision, particularly in light of the fact that the Canadiens have succeeded most when their priority was on offense, not hitting.

The veteran defenseman contributed seven hits. However, of all the Canadiens, the most high-danger shot attempts against (five), occurred with him on the ice. Emelin matching up against offensively skilled lines, like the combination of Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich, proved costly for the Canadiens. Their playmaking ability and speed posed a challenge, and ultimately cost the Canadiens in overtime. A mobile defenseman like Davidson may be more effective against the Rangers.

Another imbalance for the Canadiens is their fourth line as compared to the Rangers’. In Game 5, the Canadiens’ fourth line of King-Ott-Mitchell had the lowest shot attempts against while on the ice (10, 9, 5 respectively, at 5-on-5). But their 5-on-5 Corsi for was the lowest on the team (at 5-on-5, Mitchell’s Corsi for percentage was 30.00, Ott’s 35.71, and King’s 47.3).

The Rangers’ fourth line, on the other hand, excelled on both sides of the ice. Center Oscar Lindberg’s Corsi for percentage was 100.00; through all situations, there was not a single shot attempt against the Rangers with Lindberg on the ice. At 5-on-5, Fast (4) and Grabner (5) followed Lindberg with the next lowest Corsi against. Fast, who scored the opening goal for the Rangers while short-handed, had a 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage of 75.00, while Grabner’s was 70.59.

Having consistent secondary scoring from this fourth line has helped the Rangers against the Canadiens, while Montreal’s fourth line has only served as shot suppressors. Fast has contributed three points (two goals, one assist), Grabner has scored two goals, and Lindberg has one assist. Meanwhile, the only player on the Canadiens’ fourth line that has registered any points is Mitchell, who scored one goal.

Since the games have been so closely matched throughout this series, it is important to have the most competitive lines as possible. When top players are not contributing offensively, having scoring depth is critical. For the Canadiens, their leading scorer in the regular season, Max Pacioretty, has struggled offensively. Through the first five games, Pacioretty has only collected a single assist. What is encouraging for the Canadiens is that Paciroetty led the team in 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage (with 67.44) and relative Corsi for percentage (26.97). While he generated offensive chances, the Canadiens need their best players to be their best players.

The Rangers had similar issues earlier in this series with their regular season leading goal scorer, Chris Kreider. He did not register any points in the first four games of this series, leading his coach to call his play “ordinary.” Since being reunited with Buchnevich and Zibanejad, his play has improved and he was a crucial part of the Rangers’ overtime goal in Game 5. With the Rangers’ best player possibly returning to form and more scoring depth through four lines, the imbalance between the Canadiens and Rangers was exacerbated, which is concerning moving to Game 6.

The Canadiens came into this game motivated and looking to bounce back from their Game 4 loss in New York. Unfortunately, their play declined as the game advanced, allowing the Rangers to even out the game and win in overtime. Montreal reverted to their grinding style in this game, which was unsustainable and eventually costly. Throughout this series, the Canadiens have incited the Rangers to compete with their grinding style while attempting to mirror the Rangers’ skill game. That balance between grit and skill will continue to be vital for both teams moving forward, as the Canadiens made evident in Game 5.

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