Montreal Offensive GVT: -4.4
Montreal Defensive GVT: +6.8
Montreal Goaltending GVT: +26.0
Tampa Bay Offensive GVT: +40.6
Tampa Bay Defensive GVT:+12.8
Tampa Bay Goaltending GVT: -2.9
With Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty leading the scoring attack, Montreal has a good amount of star power at both ends of the ice. Plekanec centers a line that stands out among the rest in head coach Michel Therrien’s game plan, due to their high output of shot attempts, while Pacioretty, one of the best goal scorers in the league, adds a needed scoring punch to an otherwise tepid offensive attack. On the defensive side, they’ve got a Norris Trophy finalist in P.K. Subban, and a Vezina and Hart finalist in Carey Price. That’s a great place to start if you’re hoping to advance to the Conference Finals.
On a team level, the Habs thrive at absorbing pressure and making quick cobra-like counterattacks to create scoring chances. They ranked 3rd in the NHL this regular season in blocked shots, and were 5th in the NHL in Goals For per Goal Against. It should be said that they can afford to play this way and continue winning, largely due to the services of the aforementioned Greatest Goalie on the Planet™.
One small strength that should not be overlooked is the luxury of home-ice advantage. The Montreal faithful at the Bell Centre are sure to come out in full force in hopes that lightning strikes twice (Ha!) and to see the Canadiens end Tampa Bay’s season for the 2nd year in a row.
Montreal’s game plan to absorb pressure relies on the ability to keep the puck out of the net and capitalize on offensive chances. Montreal was 23rd in the regular season in Corsi For % (second worst among playoff teams, only ahead of Calgary). They also ranked 20th in the NHL in Shots For %. Statistically, the Habs are playing with fire. It requires exceptional coordination by all players on the ice to hold a stout defensive shape and for star players to step up and steal low-event games. Even their 2nd-best PDO in the NHL might suggest that it may be tough for this house of cards to stay standing throughout the entirety of the playoffs.
Although their opponent’s power play unit is quite poor, Montreal’s is worse still. Admittedly, their 1 goal in 20 power play attempts in the first round is a small sample size, but they ranked 27th (lowest among playoff teams) in Corsi For % on a 5-on-4 situations in the regular season.
Tampa Bay Strengths
This series will be particularly intriguing due to the fact that Tampa Bay is great at possessing and moving the puck and will spend the majority of the time in Montreal’s end trying to get it past #31. They generate an overwhelming amount of Shots For and are great at finishing their scoring chances. They have an elite line in Palat-Johnson-Kucherov that exemplifies the strengths of this team and quietly scored the most goals out of any line combination over the course of this past season. The fact that Steven Stamkos and his ridiculous 17.2 career shooting % can’t make it onto Tampa Bay’s first line shows how incredible this trio play together. To boot, Tyler Johnson had an incredible opening round, netting 6 goals and an assist in the opening series.
This isn’t the same team that got swept by the Canadiens in the playoffs last year. With an improved D-core featuring new faces like Anton Stralman, Brayden Coburn, and Jason Garrison, the Lightning have been able to shine. They swept the regular season series against the Canadiens 5-0-0, and were 2nd in the NHL in Goals For %.
Tampa Bay Weaknesses
As mentioned before, neither team in this matchup has performed very well on the power play this year. Tampa Bay ranked 26th and 24th in Shots For % and Corsi For in 5 on 4 situations, respectively, and haven’t found the right ingredients to help high shooting percentage players like Stamkos, Kucherov, and Johnson let loose.
An additional concern is the recent play of Stamkos, who was blanked in the 7-game opening round series versus the Red Wings. Stretching further back, he only has 3 goals in his last 17 games overall. While the Lightning have benefitted from the play of the Johnson line, they’ll need all the help they can get from their superstar to move on to the next round.
Lastly, the topic of goaltending comes up in virtually every playoff preview and who am I to break that trend? Say what you want about how “poised” Ben Bishop was in game 7 or how he “rose to the challenge”, but let’s not overlook his less-than-confident play in net all of this year. Of all goalies who played more than 1500 minutes this season, Bishop ranked 23rd in 5-on-5 save percentage with a .921 clip. This is worrisome for two reasons: one, because Bishop’s 5-on-5 save percentage ranked 5th in the league last year among all goalies with at least 1500 minutes, and two, because his counterpart will leave razor-thin room for error.
I’m excited to see how this series plays out. It’s a perfect matchup of contrasting styles. Montreal is willing to give up possession in favor of pouncing on a counterattack while Tampa Bay is careful with the puck and wants to monopolize it to find the right scoring chance. The question is, which team can play their style more effectively?
Intangibles like specials teams units or deeper lines could very well determine the outcome of the series. But if all else is taken at face value, I see Montreal winning in 7 games. Top players ought to step up to either shut down or convert on scarce opportunities in the playoffs, and Montreal’s elite have shown that they can do exactly that, time and time again.