The Montreal Canadiens never lost more than three consecutive games for the entire 2014-15 regular season. The avoidance of any significant slump can quickly make the difference between a division champion and losing home-ice advantage. Or worse, setbacks can be the difference between being a playoff participant and one on the outside looking in. In fact, the Canadiens season was so well balanced that their 110 regular season points were split evenly over the two halves of the season.
The Senators have made adjustments in goal to turn this series around but Craig Anderson alone cannot explain how uncommon Montreal’s goal scoring woes have become. From Games 3-5, the Senators have held Canadien skaters to only three goals – two by last year’s breakout playoff performer Dale Weise and one by defenseman Tom Gilbert. The graph below shows just how often this season’s squad was held to three goals over a three-game stretch.
The red line in the graph above represents the aggregate three-game goal total for Montreal throughout the 2014-15 regular season. For example, the total goals scored over first three games were summed and to arrive at the first data point. The next data point was the total scored in the second through fourth game of the season. And so forth. The blue line is simply their total goals scored in Games 3, 4 & 5 of the Eastern quarterfinal.
As any team does, the Canadiens had several stretches where they lit the lamp with much more frequency and other three-game stretches where they couldn’t find the back of the net as often. Three times during the season, Montreal went on similar goal-scoring droughts to what they have experienced this week versus Ottawa. But these low watermarks were back at the end of October and through November. In fact, since Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning shut them out 1-0 on March 10th, the Canadiens averaged nearly three goals per game, let alone over a three-game stretch.
The question asked by all interested parties is what has changed. The success of the 2014-15 Canadiens is largely due to the achievements of their stellar goaltender Carey Price and two blueliners who can quarterback a power play with the best of them. But could the secret to their consistency be a collection of homegrown snipers who individually know when to contribute when the others in the quartet need to be picked up?
Veterans Max Pacioretty (37 goals) and Tomas Plekanec (26 goals) each recorded their second-highest season goal totals for their career. And then the two bright young stars, Brendan Gallagher (24 goals) and Alex Galchenyuk (20 goals), each notched career highs in goals scored. What set them apart was their ability to collectively even out their offensive output through the campaign.
The graph below is similar to the previous chart but instead focuses on the aggregate total goals scored by these four snipers over three-game stretches. For example, the peak at the end of February represents when the four players combined to score nine goals over three straight.
The results show that the collective playoff slump encountered by these four players over the past three playoff games had not occurred throughout the entire 2014-15 regular season. I understand that Pacioretty was banged up to begin the series, but this is where his teammates have jumped in all season long. This group only went on two three-game stretches of one goal and, since the beginning of December, only twice collectively averaged less than a goal per game over three consecutive games.
If historical data acts as any predictor of future outcomes, this quartet is due for a strong showing in Game 6. On eight different occasions this season, Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Pacioretty and Plekanec combined to score three or more goals during a single game.
Of course, reaching these season-low marks could also be a signal that Montreal’s remarkable consistency has come to a screeching halt. Could all bets be off since this unsuccessful offensive stretch has already proven to be unexpected? What could possibly be next? The Canadiens sure know what they don’t want to happen. They wouldn’t want to defy all the season-long data and set one of those watermarks lower with a fourth consecutive loss.
Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.