Truth By Numbers: How Weber, Petry are driving Canadiens’ success

Eric Engels and Kyle Bukauskas talks about Brendan Gallagher being out with a fractured jaw and what the Montreal Canadiens can do without him.

The story of the Montreal Canadiens’ post-season has been the dominant play of Carey Price, who has a sparkling .943 save percentage through nine starts against two high-powered offensive teams, and leads all goaltenders in goals saved above expectations according to Evolving Hockey’s metrics.

However, no one can do it alone, and two players who have been absolutely key to the success of the 24th place Habs share our spotlight section this week.

SPOTLIGHT PERFORMANCE

The Canadiens were a strong 5-on-5 team all season long and they have continued that in the playoffs. That was less true in the first couple games against the Pittsburgh Penguins when Price had to hold the fort, but the team as a whole has been equal or better in even strength expected goals than their opponents in every game since Game 4 against the Penguins.

Two of the biggest reasons for that have been their pair of stalwart sentinels patrolling the right side of the ice on defence in Shea Weber and Jeff Petry.

While Weber and Ben Chiarot have been getting tons of credit for protecting the net front with physicality, Petry has been doing the same with Brett Kulak to an even more impressive degree, and both defencemen have been heavily involved in the offence.

Playing top matchups against teams with higher-end forwards than the Canadiens are able to ice, both Weber and Petry are below even in slot passes, with Weber far below; the Canadiens only control 37.2 per cent of the slot passes while he’s on the ice. However, that is a little misleading for the quality of shots they’re on the ice for, as represented by the expected goal differential each player has managed while they’re on the ice.

While Petry’s base numbers appear stronger than Weber’s, it’s Weber who has the better expected goal numbers due to some of the little things he’s able to do that impact shot quality.

For example, Weber has attempted to block 10 shots at 5-on-5 in the post-season, and he’s blocked each one. The rest of the Canadiens’ defencemen are between a 57 per cent and 83 per cent success rate on attempted blocks, meaning that sometimes they’re failing and only providing screens. Weber has been a wall so far, and when he’s unable to get in the lane, he lets Price see the shot.

Similarly, Weber has been the best Canadiens’ defenceman at denying controlled entries, stopping 60 per cent of the attempts made on his side of the ice, and as a result teams don’t attack his side very often. In fact, Weber has faced fewer attempted controlled entries than every other Canadiens’ defenceman in the post-season except Victor Mete, who has faced three fewer than Weber in 38 fewer minutes.

Another example of where Weber has exerted his influence in the post-season can be summed up by the sequence that preceded Phillip Danault’s empty net goal that sealed the deal for the Canadiens in Game 5.

On a Flyers dump in, Weber is the first to reach the puck and he’s facing backside pressure from Claude Giroux, with Sean Couturier closing off the rim around behind the net option and Joel Farabee parked on the half boards in case Weber tries to dump the puck out. The Canadiens overall aren’t in great position to help out their captain.

So, Weber decides to simply body Giroux to the ice while protecting the puck, drawing in both Couturier and Farabee. Giroux tries to tie up Weber’s stick but fails, then slashes his stick while Couturier tries to get stick on stick as well, but Weber shakes it all off and sends a nice little pass to Danault. Danault wasn’t ready for it, instead thinking it would be a board battle, but Joel Armia slipped into Farabee’s spot on the boards and recovers the puck.

Ivan Provorov has pinched down to try to steal the puck from Armia, but Armia saw him coming and has the stronger stick. Danault recognizes the opportunity and gives Armia an outlet for a breakout, and messily gets through his side of the neutral zone to send the puck into an empty net.

It all started at Weber, who at no point panicked on the play. He just bore down and did the smart thing, using all his physical tools to get the job done. That’s how he’s been all playoffs.

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Petry’s stellar play has also enabled the Canadiens to use Weber a bit more sparingly. The newly turned 35-year-old defenceman is actually fourth in even strength ice time per game in the post-season for the Canadiens. An extra minute and 45 seconds of even strength rest per game allows the Canadiens to lean on Weber for special teams and late game situations even more than usual, and it’s paid off.

The two top defenders have also been put together on the Canadiens’ power play in this series, which is clipping along at a decent rate of 21.1 per cent. That might not seem like an accomplishment, but against the Pittsburgh Penguins the power play went 0 for 12.

QUICK HITS

• How gutsy of an effort did Vancouver give in Game 5? After three straight goals by St. Louis the Canucks looked cooked, but they never stopped pushing and got some greasy goals through Jake Allen. It’s tempting to give all the credit to Jacob Markstrom, but as great as he’s been — stopping 0.4 goals above expectation on average — I’ve been impressed with the Canucks’ relentlessness. St. Louis owned play by most measures, but the Canucks outdid them in slot pass completions 19-15, and East-West passes 23-10. The extra puck movement puts the Blues’ suspect goaltending in a tougher spot.

• Some of the talk around the Coyotes is a little too harsh after the Avalanche roasted them in the last two games of the series. The Coyotes punched above their weight all season long and the luck ran out against Colorado, who is at worst a top-four team in the NHL.

• Taylor Hall is taking some flak for his post-season performance, but how was he? He only created the fourth-most offence on the Coyotes at 5-on-5, getting the fifth-most scoring chances himself and third-most slot passes. Not great for a superstar level forward, but not the whole story either.

• Hall did lead the Coyotes in transition plays, which is his bread and butter, but it didn’t translate to strong differentials. Hall was 10th on the Coyotes roster in shot attempt differential at 42.1 per cent, 17th in shot differential at 36.8 per cent, but sixth in inner slot shot differential at 42.9 per cent. I’m not sure how much to read into Hall’s performance on a team that was blown apart in differentials by both Nashville and Colorado, but disappointing point production, a lacklustre playoffs, and pandemic-reduced salary cap availability are all going to combine to take some dollars off his next contract.

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