When trying to figure out the Canadiens’ shocking run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final the majority of the credit has gone to starting goalie Carey Price. And for good reason. He enters the series as the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite, and is having the type of run that might warrant serious consideration for the award even if his team loses. He has been that great.
But he is not the only reason for their success.
One of the overlooked elements of this Canadiens team the past two seasons has been how consistently good they have been defensively and during 5-on-5 play, rating among the league’s best teams in pretty much every possession and even-strength metric.
Two of the player that have helped drive that have been the forward duo of Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault.
Together they have helped form one of the NHL’s best shutdown lines, and they are having a quietly dominant postseason for the Canadiens.
You would not know it by looking at their box score numbers.
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Through 17 games Danault has zero goals and three assists this postseason. Gallagher had two goals and three assists and has not scored a goal since Game 1 of the Second Round. Offensively, they are not really doing a lot of damage. But that does not mean they are not having a profound impact on the outcome of games. What they do, and have done for a couple of years now, is completely dictate the pace of the game when they are on the ice and almost completely neutralize their opponents best players. It is a common trend in every single matchup, every single game.
The numbers are quite stunning.
Entering Game 1 on Monday, Danault and Gallagher have played 185 minute of hockey (all situations) together this postseason. The Canadiens have allowed zero goals in that time, while having a strong territorial edge in shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals. They have managed that despite starting the overwhelming majority of their shifts in the defensive zone and playing big minutes against the other team’s top players.
A quick breakdown.
- In the First Round Danault and Gallagher spent 40 minutes going ahead to ahead with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The Maple Leafs scored zero goals in those minutes, while the shot attempt and possession numbers were pretty much a 50-50 split. All of Matthews and Marner’s offense in that series came away from Danault and Gallagher.
- In the Second Round Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor combined to play 30 minutes against Danault and Gallagher and scored zero goals in those minutes, while the Canadiens had a significant edge in shots and chances.
- In the Semifinals Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone played 40 minutes against Danault and Gallagher and scored zero goals. The Canadiens also dominated those minutes in terms of scoring chances and expected goals.
None of that success was a fluke. It was not just goaltending driven. Danault and Gallagher not only drew the toughest assignments in each series, they won all of them decisively. Not necessarily by outscoring them, but by making sure the other team’s stars did not score.
[Lightning vs. Canadiens: 2021 Stanley Cup Final Preview]
It is not a new development. They have been doing this for years now.
During the regular season Danault and Gallagher played 335 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together. The Canadiens outscored teams 23-7 and controlled more than 62% of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals.
Over the past two seasons combined they have played more than 1,035 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together and outscored teams by a whopping 71-35 margin, doubling their opponents on the scoreboard. Along with that they again controlled more than 62% of the shot attempts, chances, and expected goals.
Over the past three seasons it is nearly 2,000 minutes and a 125-72 goal advantage and nearly identical possession edge.
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They may not score a ton of goals themselves, but there is a good chance they are going to outplay your star players and keep them off the scoreboard. And that is a pretty good foundation for the Canadiens’ success. If they can play Mark Stone and Auston Matthews to a 0-0 tie every game, it buys the Canadiens’ star players (Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield) enough time to break through offensively and opens them up in different matchups.
Danault has been one of the league’s best defensive forwards since becoming a regular in the Montreal lineup, and Gallagher has always been one of Montreal’s most valuable forwards. They are a different team when he is in the lineup, and his absence during the stretch run of the regular season no doubt played a significant role in their late season slide.
They are now playing a significant role in Montreal’s stunning postseason run, and they are no doubt going to get another big test against Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov in the Stanley Cup Final. It will be one of the matchups that dictates how the series goes.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)
CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING – series livestream link
Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.