As division winners and last year’s conference final representatives, the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens seem like the gold standard in the East. However, there are plenty of red flags that indicate they’re nowhere near as dominant as their win-loss records make them appear.
Whether you prefer NHL.com’s new stats or you stick with resources such as War on Ice, the bottom line is that possession stats don’t favor either team. The Rangers and Canadiens fall in the lower half (if not lower third) of various rankings in seemingly every scenario, and just about every luck-related stat argues that they’re both paper tigers. Montreal and New York come up as the top two teams in PDO at even strength, one of the tell-tale signs of teams that are getting a ton of bounces (or not nearly enough).
Long story short, if the Rangers and Canadiens are haunted by the question “What if our luck runs out?,” they should be. Both teams have shooting luck that runs a little high, yet the most obvious area where they can get a reality check is with goaltending.
On paper, you’d think that Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist would continue to be all-world goalies, but the Canadiens above all should know how frail a setup that can be. After all, one ill-fated Chris Kreider plunge can negate that advantage.
Beyond that, both teams could face teams with red-hot goalies, negating that advantage … and there’s also the chance that Price and/or Lundqvist could falter. Price, for example, has a .909 career playoff save percentage (down from a stellar .919 career regular-season mark). If the likely Vezina winner and possible Hart recipient merely falls from elite to merely very good, Montreal could be in trouble.
People may roll their eyes at fancy stats talk, but recent history backs much of it up. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have had a nice run of things, and they generally hog the puck better than anyone else.
Interestingly enough, possession stats actually smiled upon the 2013-14 version of the Rangers despite a bumpy regular season, yet the current rendition of the team lost some helpful pieces in the offseason, particularly underrated defenseman Anton Stralman.
Ultimately, the Kings stand as an interesting fork in the road for this debate. Many stats skeptics will sneer at the fact that the defending champs topped many metrics this season and didn’t even make the playoffs. That they were beaten out by the Calgary Flames, one of the worst possession teams in the NHL, is clear proof that Corsi and Fenwick aren’t everything.
The thing is, nobody ever professed they were. Just like nobody’s professing that the Rangers and Canadiens are flat-out bad. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a team’s goalie being its best player, and it’s far from unreasonable to think that Price or Lundqvist could put together Conn Smythe-type runs.
At the same time, no advanced-stats advocate would be surprised if it was the Senators and/or Penguins who advanced to the second round.
Pittsburgh, by the way, finished with the third-highest score-adjusted Fenwick in the NHL.