Montreal Canadiens’ Right Moves at Deadline

It was a staple of Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy career for over 40 years. ”I don’t get no respect.” A routine based on a rancid marriage, ungrateful kids and dead end jobs. No matter how hard Rodney tried, he always ended the butt of the joke. ”Never got no respect.”

The defensive side of the game is a lot like Rodney Dangerfield. Good defensive work is a sight unseen. Unlike a Max Pacioretty breakaway goal, there is nothing to anticipate, nothing to cheer at. There are no recorded stats and no leaderboard for goals prevented. After all not every blocked shots would have been a goal, not every poke check prevents a 2-on-1, the +/- differential is circumstantial, and there are no trophy given at the end of the year for good positioning.

Other than the odd 125 foot backcheck on a breakaway or the 2-on-1 blocked shot, the defensive plays that jump to the eye of the viewer are mistakes. When turnovers do occur in the defensive zone, when an attacker is left wide open, when over-zealous zone clears turn to icings or a quick pass intercepted. No one noticed the 134 good plays, millions saw the mistake. Only then will defense become a talking point.

-”Trade Emelin!”

-”P.K. Subban is a defensive liability!”

-”For fuck’s sake Gilbert!”

Defense is more than the defensemen, especially for the Montreal Canadiens. Defense is a team concept, from Max Pacioretty to Carey Price, everybody chips in. Everybody is responsible for the score on the board. Not just Price, not just Price and the D-corps, not just Price the D-corps and the bottom 6, it’s everyone. The fact that the Kessel to Montreal idea got any traction is a good example of how people don’t quite understand how the Habs play.

In Montreal’s Defense

The moves made by the Montreal Canadiens on March 2nd left many fans on their appetite. Dismissing the moves as ”small time”, Minor deals that don’t help Montreal’s need of scoring.

Sure, the moves made by the management did not help to make the Habs a more dangerous threat in the offensive zone. It won’t be easier for the Montreal Canadiens to score three goals but it got a lot harder to score three goals on them.

It’s All Right For the Montreal Canadiens

The four players acquired by the Habs are vastly different from each other. Different skill sets, different sizes, different backgrounds, but they all have a very important point in common. They are all right-handed shots.

Two reasons why that is important:

1. According to QuantHockey.com , the success rate of shots in the 2013-14 playoffs was 9.24% for all skaters, 10.17% for forwards, 6.54% for defensemen. A good majority of those shots are taken from below the faceoff circles. A majority of defensemen’s shots come from the point, especially on the power play. Since it’s the forward’s job in the defensive zone to contain the defensemen, a majority of whom are left-handed shots, a right handed forward can block that shot by simply keeping the blade of his stick on the ice parallel to the left-handed shooter and deflect it or keep it on the stick for a quick zone break-out.

Here’s an example from the March 2nd game against the San Jose Sharks, exactly what Devante Smith-Pelly was supposed to do and didn’t, leading to the Sharks’ third goal.

2. Positional changes. It is easier to open up for a one-timer when you are off-wing. By having both a left-handed and right-handed shots on the same line, they can both move off-wing without creating a hole down the middle. Smith-Pelly can and has played both right and left-wing. Mitchell and Flynn can both play centre and wing. Those that despise Michel Therrien’s line juggling, will have to learn to like it and learn to live with it because it has only just begun.

Petry-fying Defense

With the arrival of Petry, All three defenseman on the right side are right-handed shots. Again this is for the sake of quick zone break-outs. In recent years, the Montreal Canadiens did not have the luxury of having right-handed defensemen other than P.K. Subban. This allows everyone to play within their comfort zones and be more efficient.

A left-handed defenseman moved to the right will have to re-adapt and go against what he learned to do his whole life. Even the best of them will tell you that even though they’ve adjusted, it still doesn’t feel natural and that the game feels faster to them and feel less in control.

Added to the constraints are the danger of a left-handed defenseman playing on the right side coming from behind the net or dumping the puck at the opposing team’s blue line. Their back turned to the play, they are in a vulnerable position as they don’t see who might be coming. The danger of being rocked by a big hit and turning the puck over is very real.

While a right shot would dump the puck out immediately, a left shot playing right might take an extra second to go backhand-forehand before dumping it out. Sometimes the advantage in hockey is just that, one second. By having three left-handed defensemen on the left side and three right-handed defensemen on the right side, you improve the efficiency of your defense corps and their quickness to clear their zone. For the Montreal Canadiens, speed kills.

 Wheelin’ And Dealin’

The Habs don’t play a possession game but a transition one. Offense to defense and back again. Hundreds of quick plays to push their opponents to create an opening and then quickly taking advantage of it. Waiting and countering in the neutral zone until the chance for a breakaway or a 2-on-1. Opportunistic and unpredictable.

At the Trade Deadline, the Montreal Canadiens’ management took what made them dangerous and made it lethal. The quickness in skating and play making of their forwards, defensemen playing on their strong side, overall team defense (forecheck and backcheck). All this added to Carey Price in net, The Montreal Canadiens should not be in a position where they need to score five goals to win a game very often.