Montreal Canadiens: How Games Without Fans Will Benefit Habs vs Penguins

TORONTO, ONTARIO - JULY 28: The Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JULY 28: The Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in a play-in series. Will fanless games benefit the Habs?

The Montreal Canadiens had a tumultuous, if not awful, 2019-20 regular season. They played 71 games and ended up with 71 points in the standings. That had them 24th in the NHL standings when the league paused operations in the middle of March.

The Canadiens were nowhere near a playoff spot. But, thanks to the wild year that 2020 is, 24 teams will make the postseason. The Habs now have a chance to make the official playoffs by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Best-of-5 series.

The 71 point Habs will be taking on the Pens who had 86 points in the standings and played two less games than the Canadiens. It seems like an enormous mismatch on paper (and probably is) but will the circumstances around this series make it closer than a quick glance at the standings suggest?

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The Penguins were the fifth best team in the Eastern Conference and seventh best in the entire league in the regular season. A big reason for that impressive season was what the Penguins did in front of their home fans. Pittsburgh put together a 23-8-4 record on home ice, one of the best home records in the entire league.

Well, the Penguins aren’t going to have those home fans with them in this series. Every game in the Eastern Conference in taking place in Toronto with zero fans in attendance. Heading to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins in their arena is far more intimidating than taking them on in Toronto when the tv announcers 100 feet up in the air can clearly hear what the players are saying on the ice.

Taking away that home ice advantage is going to have a way bigger impact on the Penguins that it will on the Canadiens. Simply stated, the Habs were terrible on home ice this season. Their 14-17-6 record at the Bell Centre was the second worst home ice record in the league. The only team that was worse, and the only other one to have less points than games played, was the Detroit Red Wings.

Well, the Canadiens don’t have to worry about the pressure of playing poorly in front of more than 21000 fans in the Bell Centre anymore. It seemed to have a negative impact on them this season, as they were one of the few teams in the league that were better on the road than they were at home this season.

When not playing at the Bell Centre, the Habs put together a 17-14-3 record in 34 away games. The Penguins were a tad worse on the road, with a 17-15-2 record without their home fans cheering them on.

How will no fans at all affect these teams? Hard to say, but these two teams were very similar when paying on the road. In this Return to Play format, basically every game is a road game. The Habs weren’t amazing on the road, but they were exactly in the middle of the pack. They ranked 16th in the standings on road games, which is far better than just being better than Detroit.

Carey Price was decisively better on the road this season as well. He had a 12-15-4 record at the Bell Centre with a 2.91 GAA and a .901 SV%. On the road, he was 15-10-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .917 SV%. Will he benefit from having less people in the building? For whatever reason, he was more effective away from home this year.

Matt Murray is likely to start for the Penguins in goal in this series. With Pittsburgh fans in attendance, he had a 10-3-3 record with a 2.73 GAA and a .913SV%. Without the Pens faithful cheering him on, he went 10-8-2 with a 2.98 GAA and a .884 SV%.

Could Price far outperform Murray in a short series? Of course he could. He did play better than the Pens starter when neither had the benefit of playing in a familiar setting all year.

The biggest difference for the Habs at home vs on the road was their power play. It was absolutely awful at the Bell Centre. They scored on 12.4% of their man advantage opportunities on home ice which was last in the league. On the road? The Habs power play was terrific, scoring on 24.7% of their chances. That’s almost exactly twice as good as it was on home ice.

The Canadiens often heard some booing coming from the stands at the Bell Centre when their power play didn’t click right away. Did it affect the way they performed with the man advantage? If not, why were they the 31st best team on home ice with the man advantage and the 3rd best team on the power play on the road?

How will they perform on the power play with no fans in attendance? Will they be the worst team like they were at home, or one of the very best like they were on the road?

A "flex" cap would work well for Habs. dark. Next

It will be interesting to see how the Canadiens play when these games with no fans begin. If they play like they did at the Bell Centre this season, it will be a short series. If they play like the did on the road, Price is better than Murray, and their power play is terrific they have a real chance to take out the Penguins.