If you had the impression that the Canadiens like to score the first goal in playoff hockey, you’d be right. If you had the impression that it was a key to their success, again, you’d be right.
In the ‘Jacques Martin era’, scoring first then smothering the opponent is the recipe for success, and indeed the Canadiens have been quite good at it. It also doesn’t seem to matter whether the Habs score early or late in the first period, so long as they score before their opponents.
Going back to last year’s playoffs, and including the first three games of this post-season, the Canadiens have scored the opening goal in 13 of the 22 total games played (59%). Contrast that with the Habs scoring the first goal in just 53% of their regular season games (44 of 82 games). The Canadiens won 73% of the regular season games in which they scored first.
Back to the playoffs. Of those 13 playoff games in which they scored first, they sport a 10-3 record, good for a win 77% of the time, up just a few points over the regular season. On the flip side, when the Canadiens don’t score first, they’ve won only once (game two vs the Penguins last season). That’s a meagre 11% win percentage, down from 32% in the 2010-2011 regular season. To put it another, more tangible way, in the ’10-’11 regular season, the Habs had a roughly 1 in 3 chance to win a game if the opponents scored first. Over the past 2 playoff years, and including last night’s loss to the Bruins, that chance sits now at 11% – a roughly 1 in 10 chance to pull off the victory. It should also be noted that the lone win that the Canadiens do have when opponents score first came in surmounting a 1-goal deficit. The Habs are winless in the past 2 playoff seasons if they go down 2-0.
Needless to say, scoring the first goal is a huge priority for the Habs, and no doubt the Bruins now recognize that.
Here are some more interesting numbers: The Canadiens have gotten the drop on their opponent in the opening 3 minutes 7 times in their past 22 playoff games, and have won 5 of those games (71%). In fact, you can narrow that down even further: the Habs have scored in the first 2 minutes 6 times (winning 5 of 6 – 83%) and scored in the opening minute 4 times (winning 3 of 4 – 75%) Talk about a quick start and getting off on the right foot! In fact, the later in the period the Habs score the opening goal, the higher the chances of a win becomes. In 3 games they scored the opening goal past the 7 minute mark, winning all three of those games.
The “system” that we love to hate is very effective if the Habs are the first team to score. The downside is that the system all but guarantees a loss if the Habs don’t score first in the playoffs. While we look at last night’s game and tell ourselves that the Habs almost came all the way back, and that if they had just two more minutes they would have tied it, the fact is the Habs needed TWO more goals in order to win the game. The Habs don’t often score four goals, and their record when the opponent scores 3 or more goals was stunningly bad over the regular season: 5-28-8 (hat tip to @HabsWatch). We can console ourselves with the “almost“, and the convincing effort in the third period, but the system doesn’t permit the Habs to play as they did in the third period for 60 minutes. The bottom line is that the Habs need that first goal, and need to play their system if they want to win.
Here’s the list of opening Habs goals over the past couple seasons, (note the two names that keep on coming up):
|Opponent||Game||Scorer||Time / Period||Result|
|Washington||1||Cammalleri||12:36 / 1st||Win|
|Washington||2||Gionta||1:00 / 1st||Loss|
|Washington||5||Cammalleri||1:30 / 1st||Win|
|Washington||6||Cammalleri||7:30 / 1st||Win|
|Washington||7||Bergeron||19:30 / 1st||Win|
|Pittsburgh||1||Subban||4:30 / 1st||Loss|
|Pittsburgh||4||Pyatt||2:34 / 1st||Win|
|Pittsburgh||6||Cammalleri||1:13 / 1st||Win|
|Pittsburgh||7||Gionta||0:32 / 1st||Win|
|Philadelphia||3||Cammalleri||7:05 / 1st||Win|
|Philadelphia||5||Gionta||0:59 / 1st||Loss|
|Boston (2011)||1||Gionta||2:44 / 1st||Win|
|Boston (2011)||2||Cammalleri||0:43 / 1st||Win|
UPDATE: Research done here seems to confirm that scoring first is in fact quite important, though there are other factors that can add gray area to the conversation. Check it out.