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Habs and Halak: That good, or just plain lucky?

Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak, of Slovakia, keeps his eye on the puck against the Washington Capitals during the third period of Game 7 of the NHL hockey playoff series, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, in Washington. The Canadiens won 2-1, eliminating the Capitals from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Nick Wass

As I've said in the past, I've got a lot of time for the stat-heads that are crunching numbers online. There's a lot of interesting stuff being written about the NHL, different ideas thrown out there. And one of the guys I've got the most time for is Gabriel Desjardins, who runs the great Behind The Net site dedicated to advanced statistics.

Desjardins also has his own blog, and lately he's been writing a lot on the Habs' dream run in the postseason and getting a lot of flak for it from Canadiens fans. It's a pretty interesting discussion.

In his opinion, time's running out. Or, more specifically, Montreal's luck can't last forever.

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Gabe usually evaluates teams by looking closely at scoring chances, shots on goal and possession statistics (like one called Corsi), and in all of those areas, the Canadiens were beat up pretty badly by Washington and Pittsburgh. Halak saving so many pucks obviously is a big help, but can a team continue to win while on the wrong end of the shot count so often?

Desjardins says no. And so do many others in the statistics community.

I'm not going to wade deep into the metrics because others have covered off a lot of that territory and some of it's pretty arcane, but what I will say is that I think Jaroslav Halak is the real deal -- a goaltender who can be a No. 1 in this league a long time. You look back at his career in the minors and his numbers were terrific there, and his career save percentage of .919 is impressive. (Martin Brodeur's, for example, is .914. Not that we should compare the two given the sample size difference, but that gives you an idea of where "good" comes in.)

Goalies are notoriously difficult to project, so who's really to know, long term, but I'd argue that the Canadiens would have finished higher than eighth in the East had they leaned more heavily on Halak this season. He only played about half the games, but had a .924 save percentage compared to Price's .912, and Montreal won a whole lot of their games with Halak in goal:

Halak's record during the season: 26-13-5 = 106 point pace Price's record during the season: 13-20-5 = 67 point pace

There are some caveats there, of course. Halak played far more games when Andrei Markov was in the lineup (32) than Price did (14), and he's a pretty important piece of that team. Desjardins calculates that Halak's save percentage was vastly superior when Markov was in the lineup during the regular season.

Halak also, for whatever reason, got a lot more goal support during the year than Price did, which certainly helps win more games.

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Round 3 is going to be really interesting for the Canadiens, as they're finally going to get an opponent where they're not a huge underdog. Both Boston and Philadelphia have had goaltending almost as good as Montreal's to this point, and they play much different styles than the Capitals or Penguins.

Luck? That'll definitely play a role in any team winning, one pundits tend to overlook. What are injuries but bad luck? And the difference between a win and a loss, especially postlockout in an era of extreme parity, is so little that even the eighth seeds aren't that much worse than the top teams in the league. Who's to say Halak doesn't struggle in a key game, or that Leighton or Rask (or whoever) comes back to earth?

The numbers are against the Habs, but wasn't that the case coming in to all this?

I'll wait for Friday's Game 7 before making a prediction, but I'm betting the West wins out in the end. So are a lot of others, and that just makes sense given the top two seeds, in the tougher conference, are still alive.

Although I don't imagine many are batting much better than .500 on their predictions these days.

I blame bad luck.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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