The Montreal Canadiens are successful when generating offense off of the transition (takeaways in the defensive or neutral-zones). They play their best hockey when their defensemen and goaltender are able to move the puck up to the speedy forwards quickly and accurately. The famous "first pass" is essential; whether it takes place in the neutral or defensive-zones. I'll cover the neutral-zone passing percentage in a future post.
*I began tracking passing percentage late in the season, players without any regular season numbers were either injured or did not play substantial minutes late in the season*
1. Paul Mara (UFA)
No grade available for regular season
Mara was able to complete 86% of his attempted passes in the defensive-zone. Mara's success-rate is a combination of strength of opposition, limited ice-time, and the ability to make the simple play.
2. Carey Price
(76%) Regular season
When Price is unsuccessful with a pass attempt in the defensive-zone it usually results in either a phenomenal save or a goal against. That said, Price's high success-rate is a testament to his defensemen's ability to "target-up" (position themselves for an easy outlet pass), his puck-handling ability and number 31's patience.
3. James Wisniewsi (UFA)
(69%) Regular season
Good outlet passes are a staple to Wisniewski's game. He was a key to the Habs transition game during the playoffs; improving his success-rate from the regular season by 5 percentage-points. Play number 20 against the oppositions second and third line, and this number will easily rise above 80%.
4. Jaroslav Spacek
(81%) Regular season
This is a great example of where statistics dispute perceptions. When questioned, many Hab fans would question Spacek's ability to make a strong first-pass. In fact, his regular season success-rate is tops among Montreal's defensive-core
5. Roman Hamrlik (UFA)
(74%) Regular season
Hamrlik went from the third-best regular season success-rate to the fifth-best playoff success-rate. Number 44's ability to make a solid first-pass diminishes with every second he plays over and above the ice-time of a 4th d-man. Placed in the right situation, with limited ice-time against players from the opposition's third and fourth lines, Hamrlik would be an absolute rock on defense, increasing his success-rate to 80% in this metric.
6. Brent Sopel (UFA)
(70%) Regular season
The drop in Sopel's efficiency rating from the regular season to playoffs is a product of Boston's game plan and the fact that he played substantial short-handed minutes; where an outlet pass isn't usually an option.
7. Hal Gill
(78%) Regular season
Gill's success-rate in this metric dropped 15 percentage-points during the playoffs. Like Hamrlik, Gill's drop is a product of playing against Boston's top players, while being an important cog in the Habs' penalty-killing unit. If the Habs retain Gill, and drop his minutes into the 15 to 17 range, his defensive-zone passing percentage will return to its regular season range.
8. PK Subban
(67%) Regular season
Pressuring PK was a huge part of Boston's game plan. That said, PK had the lowest passing percentage in the defensive-zone of all Montreal's d-men in both the playoffs and regular season. This is due in large part to strength of opposition and a lot of penalty-killing minutes. PK does everything on the ice quickly. However, a strong first pass is often about patience. Waiting and recognizing the right moment for that first pass should become Subban's main focus of improvement this off-season and through training camp next year.
9. Yannick Weber
Limited minutes on defense in playoffs
(71%) regular season
Weber didn't play enough minutes on the back-end during the playoffs to create a tangible grade in this metric. He did, however have the fourth-best success-rate among defensemen during the regular-season, while his regular season total equalled the team's average.