In 2009-10, including the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens are 9-1-0 when allowing 46 or more shots against. The same team is just 3-14-2 when allowing between 26 and 30 shots against.
That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, especially given that the team's goal support numbers are not that far apart (2.86 goals per 60 minutes for 46+ SA games, 2.53 goals per 60 minutes for 26-30 SA games). The difference looks to be because the Habs (and their opponents) tend to adjust their play to the score. When Montreal beats better teams, especially in games where they take the lead early, they usually allow a lot of shots against. When Montreal loses, especially in games where they fall behind early, they tend to allow an average level of shots against.
Here are the period-by-period shooting percentage, save percentage and shots for/shots against numbers for Montreal in both 26-30 and 46+ shot games this season:
26-30 Shots Against:
First period: 6.0%, .881, 215 SF, 185 SA
Second period: 8.5%, .889, 216 SF, 201 SA
Third period: 4.8%, .924, 210 SF, 179 SA
46+ Shots Against:
First period: 18.6%, .957, 70 SF, 163 SA
Second period: 8.2%, .975, 85 SF, 158 SA
Third period: 7.4%, .947, 81 SF, 150 SA
I know En Attendant Les Nordiques has scoring chances for Montreal this season. I really wish my French was better because what I do understand of his analysis is always very interesting. I'd like to see how much the Habs' scoring chances are affected by the game score, and just how much the chance-to-shot ratio varies depending on whether they are leading or trailing. The percentages above make it look like the leading team, either Montreal or their opponent, managed with some success to reduce scoring chances for both teams in the third period.
His numbers from game 6, though, suggest that Montreal was not able to reduce shot quality very much in the late going. In the last two periods Washington outshot Montreal 36-12 and outchanced them 25-8. Jaroslav Halak had to make a ton of tough saves to keep his team in front. It should be noted that the Caps are a great team that would probably outplay Montreal anyway, which it makes it tough to tell how much of that chance differential was the impact of their tactics and how much of it was because of a difference in ability.
If Montreal gets up early tonight we can expect an avalanche of chances from the Caps, and they're going to need Halak to hold the fort again. If Washington goes out in front, they'll probably play a bit more defensively and be a bit more selective with their shots. As a result, if Halak makes 45+ saves tonight it will most likely be in a Habs win or overtime loss. If Washington's final shot total ends up in the 26-30 range, that's probably not going to be good news for Montreal.