I fooled around with tracking shot quality in last year's playoffs, using shot charts to try to get a sense of where teams were shooting from. One of the most interesting sets of numbers that I happened across was at CBS Sportsline, where they track where a shot was targeted on goal (e.g. low glove, low blocker, five-hole, high glove or high blocker).
This data showed that high shots were much more likely to go in than low shots. The problem was that it was very unevenly done. Some games had no high shots recorded at all, others had just a few, while others seemed like they had a more reasonable number. I ended up just filing it away as something to potentially check on if I was trying to assess the shot quality of a particular team or series of games.
A lot of people are trying to explain why the Montreal Canadiens are having so much success this postseason, and one of the factors they typically point to is that the team is forcing their opponents to shoot from the outside. Often people talk about shot quality when they want to try to justify why one team is running hot with the percentages. In the long run teams tend to converge to the average. However, I think it is entirely possible that shot quality could be a factor when one team is playing against a single opponent over the course of a playoff series.
I thought to look at the high/low CBS numbers for Montreal's series against both Pittsburgh and Washington to see what they tell us. If Montreal's skaters are legitimately doing something to impact the other team's shots, then we would expect to see their opponents have a higher percentage of low shots than the Habs. If this is a bunch of talking head garbage, then the percentages are going to be similar for both teams and Montreal was just lucking out.
What do the data tell us?
Montreal vs. Pittsburgh:
High shots: Pittsburgh 45, Montreal 45
Low shots: Pittsburgh 180, Montreal 128
Montreal vs. Washington:
High shots: Washington 73, Montreal 62
Low shots: Washington 216, Montreal 131
Wow. I'd say that at least warrants a closer look.
It's important to note that we have to be careful with this data. It still seems like whoever tracks this stuff sometimes just falls asleep for a period here and an entire game there. For example, in game one of the Pittsburgh series just 2 out of 55 shots were recorded as being high, and in game three against Washington just 3 of 77 shots were marked down as high shots. Several other games were suspect (games 6 and 7 against Washington, games 3 and 5 against Pittsburgh), all of whom had a total of 8 high shots or fewer for both teams.
I'm inclined to throw those games out, and rerun the results.
Montreal vs. Pittsburgh (G2, G4, G6, G7 only):
High shots: Pittsburgh 37, Montreal 39
Low shots: Pittsburgh 116, Montreal 53
Montreal vs. Washington (G1, G2, G3, G5 only):
High shots: Washington 60, Montreal 56
Low shots: Washington 98, Montreal 61
Montreal won 6 out of these 8 games, so these games may not be exactly representative of the two series. However, it is a good sample to try to figure out whether the Habs' defensive tactics were effective. This evidence certainly suggests that they might have been, assuming that this data is good. Whether it was because they had more pressure on the puck, or because they were clogging the shooting lanes, or because they had more counterattack opportunities or odd-man rushes, these numbers are evidence that Montreal's shots may have been of higher quality than those of their opposition, particularly against the Penguins.
Even if that was true, that of course does not mean there was no luck involved. The Habs have benefitted from a healthy dose of good fortune, especially against the Caps. Today's goalies are very good at taking away the bottom of the net, but low shots aren't by any means harmless, especially ones taken close to the net. Think of Halak's pad save on Evgeni Malkin in the third period of game 7, for example. The Habs have survived a bunch of similar chances in the playoffs.
Montreal is not likely to sustain either their shooting percentage or save percentage numbers so far (13.7% on high shots and 10.5% on low shots in the second sample, compared to 9.3% and 6.1% respectively for their opponents). I'd say they should still be the underdog in the Eastern Conference Finals against whoever wins tonight. Yet maybe there is at least something to Jacques Martin's madness after all.