The Conference Finals in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference offer a group of fascinating story lines and opportunities to analyze the teams and the NHL in 2014. With each game during both Conference Finals, Hockey Prospectus will look at what the statistics say about the direction of the series, the league and who will raise Lord Stanley’s Cup.
GAME 1 – New York Rangers 7 Montreal Canadiens 2
1) 10.8 Minutes
The Canadiens and Rangers played fewer than 11 minutes of hockey at 5v5 Close during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. During that 10.8 minutes, the Rangers out-shot the Habs 8-3 and scored on three of those shots. Clearly this is a good sign for New York, but with so little of the game being played during the time that best indicates which club is playing the best hockey, it is hard to draw too many conclusions from Game 1. It certainly matters to one’s analysis that the Rangers put their foot on the gas and blew out the Canadiens, but we can be sure that Montreal will not take a bunch of dumb penalties at the end of the ensuing games, causing the score to be a blowout. We will soon see much more 5v5 Close hockey that will be more telling about which way the series may go.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price was benched for the third period of Game 1. Doing so with the team only trailing by three seems to indicate that Price may have suffered an injury when he was collided into by Chris Kreider. The .909 is backup goaltender Peter Budaj’s save percentage this year. The point is that he is a massive drop off from Price, who posted a Vezina-caliber ,927 save percentage this season. During the playoffs, Price has been stellar with a .919 save percentage. If he is injured for any period of time, we could be looking at a Tampa Bay-like situation where the loss of a top-level goaltender proves costly.
While it wasn’t the most important goal in the history of sports, Rick Nash finally broke his incredible streak of goalless shots by putting a puck under the arm of Budaj. Following the goal, Nash’s shooting percentage is a whopping 1.9%. You had to figure he would eventually break through. You might also draw the conclusion that the goal may open the floodgates. Nash’s puck possession numbers have been good with a 6.1% Relative Corsi and his shots per 60 minutes are nearly the same as they were when he scored 30 goals for Columbus in 2011-12 at around 12/60.
The number of minutes that Anton Stralman and Marc Staal faced up with David Desharnais and linemates Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. They also matched up for 6.9 minutes against P.K. Subban. While neither Stralman or Staal gets the type of recognition as Ryan McDonagh or Dan Girardi, it seems the Rangers’ coaching staff has decided to match Stralman-Staal against the best Habs line – though McDonagh-Girardi played equal minutes against Subban. It will be worth watching how Alain Vigneault uses his top two pairs throughout the series. Being able to interchange the two seems an advantage for NYR.
The New York Rangers scored three goals and put 11 shots on net on the power play in Game 1. The Rangers’ man-advantage play was abysmal at times during their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers were an average PP team during the regular season, ranking 15th and scoring on 18.1% of their opportunities. Like Nash, if they get rolling, it could be problematic for the Canadiens.