After completing my President Cup finals preview and prognosticating on the listener line that the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (ROU) seemed likely to best the Halifax Mooseheads (HAL) in a seven-game series, I received some immediate feedback that there was no accounting for quality of playoff competition. Further, the lack of considering competition was leading to some combination of underrating the Mooseheads and overrating the Huskies. That feedback is 100% accurate and I’m here to make up for it with a post that’s somehow even longer than the preview.
Below is an over the top detailed look at each opponent dispatched by the Huskies and Mooseheads through the first three rounds of the 2019 QMJHL playoffs. The methodology here is similar to the finals preview and uses full season data as opposed to playoff data to allow for a large sample size from which we can be more confident about the numbers representing a team’s true talent level. Metrics from each of the three most common game states (5v5, 5v4, 4v5) are examined.
Even-strength, five-versus-five (although it’s really six-versus-six because goalies are players too!) play is the most common and arguably most important game situation. It is also the most likely to indicate a team’s talent level because apart from a high-level system, player positioning and decision making is extremely fluid compared to special teams situations.
Without further ado, here is the competition that Rouyn-Noranda has faced in the playoffs thus far:
The colour coding is such that red indicates an area where the opponent was strong relative to the league and green indicates an area where the opponent was weak relative to the league. League rank was used to compare across teams for simplicity.
The numbers on the Huskies’ playoff opponents from a 5v5 perspective in rounds one, two, and three flatters only the Oceanic:
Round 1 – Shawinigan Cataractes (SHA)
The Cataractes were the worst team to make the QMJHL playoffs and were extremely weak in most 5v5 categories. One positive wrinkle in their numbers is that they scored on shots at an average rate overall and at an excellent rate in the high danger area. Further, Shawinigan was in the top third of the league in percentage of both shots for and shots against that came from the high danger area1. It didn’t necessarily matter where their shots came from or where they allowed shots from because they were so poor at generating shot volume and suppressing opponent shot volume. It also didn’t help that the goaltending was so weak that it’s a genuine miracle they took two games off Rouyn-Noranda in the first round.
Round 2 – Victoriaville Tigres (VIC)
In a single word: bland. In more words, the Tigres were an average to below average team in the QMJHL by record and most 5v5 measures. They were offensively anemic and incapable of generating and converting high danger shots. Victoriaville faired no better in their own zone where they were an average defensive team but received excellent goaltending which is likely the only reason they finished anywhere near .500 during the regular season.
Round 3 – Rimouski Oceanic (RIM)
The Oceanic were a legitimate top tier team in the QMJHL and controlled the majority of shots and high danger shots at 5v5 throughout the season. Even when their offense failed, which wasn’t often, they were able to rely on strong goaltending. Rimouski represents toughest competition a #1 seed would have to face prior to the championship series.
Of course, not even the Oceanic could put up much of a fight as Rouyn-Noranda swept them in the league semi-final. The 5v5 play of the Huskies opponents in the opening two rounds of the playoffs was marshmallow soft and Victoriaville’s goaltending wasn’t even able to steal a game. On the other side of the bracket, Halifax faced more formidable 5v5 foes:
Round 1 – Quebec Remparts (QUE)
The Remparts were a middling team with a few interesting quirks that don’t even include the fact that their coach is the infinitely unique Patrick Roy. By all accounts and numbers, Quebec aimed to play low event hockey and drag games out as evidenced by leading the league in both overtime and shootout losses. They were successful at limiting opponent high danger chances and creating their own high danger chances but lacked shooting talent and had the worst high danger shooting percentage in the league. That’s a difficult feat ti accomplish with teams like Acadie-Bathurst and St John living in the league’s basement.
Round 2 – Moncton Wildcats (MON)
Moncton finished the season ranked in the middle of the table and is a team that mostly screams average at 5v5 on but could also win on any given night based on a few star players. They had the ability to generate dangerous shots but somewhat struggled to convert those shots at a high rate despite having an overall high finishing level in all areas.
Round 3 – Drummondville Voltigeurs (DRU)
Throughout the regular season and playoffs, the Voltigeurs were considered a real threat to win the President Cup. They dominated shot and goal counts at 5v5 and were excellent defensively in limiting shot volume while keeping opponents outside dangerous areas. Drummondville are had the best 5v5 high danger save percentage in the league but average results from medium and low danger areas.
All three teams that Halifax has beaten thus far had out shot their opponents overall and from dangerous areas at 5v5. Once Halifax got past Quebec, they swept Moncton, and handled Drummondville in six. Losing a combined five games to those teams over three rounds is not necessarily surprising as Halifax’s competition was much stiffer than Rouyn’s at 5v5
Powerplays play a crucial role in deciding many games and many series as they are high scoring leverage times within games. A one-man advantage of five-versus-four play is the most common type of powerplay and all data presented below is for 5v4 except for total powerplays (TPP) and powerplay percentage (PP%). Again, looking at a full season’s worth of data is more instructive than looking at small sample size playoff series; therefore, all numbers are from the 2018-2019 QMJHL regular season. One last caveat to the powerplay numbers is that obviously, different teams had different numbers of 5v4 powerplay opportunities which must be considered when looking at how a team ranks league-wide in most categories.
Digging into Rouyn-Noranda’s opponents’ powerplay number with this granularity reveals some very interesting tidbits and possibly some reason for optimism for Shawinigan fans:
Round 1 – SHA
Drawing penalties is a skill and the Cataractes were the best in the league all year long. While it’s true that having the most powerplays gives your opponents the most shorthanded opportunities, allowing 14 short handed goals at 5v4 is objectively bad. Further cratering Shawinigan’s powerplay results was their lack of finishing as they sat in the bottom half of the league in 5v4 shooting percentage and 5v4 high danger shooting percentage. So where is the optimism? Take a close look at the shot volume and specifically the high danger shot volume. 17.2% of Shawinigan’s shots during 5v4 play came from dangerous areas. Considering they ranked in the top third of the league for total powerplay shot volume this is impressive. It’s no wonder that the Cataractes went 5/14 on the powerplay in their two wins against Rouyn.
Round 2 – VIC
Victoriaville was essentially bad across the board in their 5v4 play. They struggled to draw penalties and were not any better at creating good looks when they did. This is just a run of the mill bottom of the league powerplay.
Round 3 – RIM
Whatever Rimouski lacked in other areas on their powerplay they made up for by finishing every opportunity they had. Good teams create good looks and don’t necessarily need a high volume of shots to be effective. The Oceanic’s shooting percentage from the high danger area was so high during the regular season that it wouldn’t be surprising if a four-game swoon against Rouyn-Noranda was what caused their powerplay to stutter to a 1/13 mark in the series.
Rouyn-Noranda faced two powerplays in Shawinigan and Rimouski that posed very real threats and were able to shut them down on their way to the President Cup final. Strangely enough, Halifax struggled to contain a power play that looked rather weak on paper and then fared about as well as expected against two upper echelon power play units:
Round 1 – QUE
The Remparts were able to draw penalties at a high rate all season long but never were able to generate the type of positives you want from a powerplay like high danger shot volume and high shooting percentages. That they converted at a bottom five rate at 5v4 only looks worse when they also gave up the second most goals in that situation. It was quite a shock when Quebec converted on eight of their 28 powerplays in the first round in what should have been a lopsided advantage to Halifax.
Round 2 – MON
Moncton was an above average to very good 5v4 team for the duration of the regular season. The only real knocks against them would be the amount of shorthanded goals they allowed and a below average overall shooting percentage. Despite the low shooting percentage, the Wildcats sheer volume of shots was enough to carry their powerplay efficiency in what should be considered a sustainable manner. This was a powerplay you absolutely had to worry about at any given moment.
Round 3 – DRU
The Voltigeurs efficiency, overall goal numbers, and overall shot totals place them in the elite tier of the QMJHL. Look beyond that into their production from the high danger area and they’re not as dangerous as they probably should be considering the talents of Max Comtois and Joseph Veleno. Drummondville’s high danger shot volume was middling and, according to the numbers, they appeared content to fire low danger shots on net. Given the offensive fire power here the Volt’s powerplay should always be feared despite their shot selection.
Halifax failed to stop the weakest of the three powerplays they’ve seen in the playoffs in Quebec but effectively limited two top end 5v4 units in Moncton and Drummondville. The level of difficulty for the Mooseheads when their opponents were at a 5v4 advantage appears slightly higher than that of Rouyn-Noranda but certainly not as much as expected. The difference simply came down to Halifax’s opponents having more individual skill than Rouyn’s opponents.
The flip side of the special teams coin is penalty killing where success often comes down to whether a goaltender is making saves. The same caveats applied to 5v4 play are also valid here: times shorthanded (TSH) and penalty kill percentage (PK%) apply to all shorthanded situations, data is from the regular season, and league-wide rank is closely tied with number of penalty kill opportunities in many cases.
Rouyn-Noranda’s opponents were not very adept penalty killers at 4v5 for several reasons:
Round 1 – SHA
Shawinigan did exactly one thing well at 4v5: force opponents to take shots from outside the low slot. Unfortunately, limiting dangerous shots is only so much help when they’re giving up a high volume of shots from other areas. Their goaltenders’ general inability to stop pucks only made matters worse and this was easily one of the worst penalty units in the league at 4v5.
Round 2 – VIC
The Tigres, much like the other game states, were banal and average in their 4v5 play. The only positive they had going was that they didn’t take many penalties which can at least partly explain the low goals against totals.
Round 3 – RIM
Rimouski certainly didn’t finish fifth overall during the regular season on the strength of their 4v5 penalty killing. The Oceanic were the most penalized team in the league and while they killed off 80% of those penalties, the high number of penalties taken offsets their efficiency at 4v5. Average goaltending was the only thing that saved Rimouski’s penalty kill from being an abject disaster as they allowed high danger shots like a bottom five team.
In all, the Huskies faced one league average 4v5 team and two very bad ones in their first three playoff rounds. The Mooseheads opponents were only slightly better at 4v5 but had obvious flaws:
Round 1 – QUE
In a fun bit of trivia, a team coached by Patrick Roy was the most disciplined team in the league this year. Despite not giving opponents many chances on the powerplay, Quebec posted a miserable PK% of 74.4% due to allowing a high proportion of shots from the dangerous area of the ice and getting goaltending so poor that Roy would rather pull his goalie with 10 minutes left in a playoff game.
Round 2 – MON
Chalk the Wildcats 4v5 penalty kill success up to goaltending. The goalies in Moncton stopped a lot of dangerous chances throughout the season which gave the illusion of a solid penalty. The one area where the only playoff team from New Brunswick really excelled was in scoring shorthanded goals.
Round 3 – DRU
The theme of the Mooseheads’ playoff opponents’ penalty kills is goaltending and that continues with Drummondville. The Volt’s goaltending was almost as bad as Quebec’s at 4v5 which meant that no matter how well they suppressed shots they couldn’t keep the puck out of their net. Scoring 27 shorthanded goals at 4v5 is no joke though and Drummondville punished opponents every time they could.
Halifax took advantage on the powerplay in every series and didn’t allow Moncton or Drummondville to score any cheap ones on the penalty kill. I’m sure any team would rather play Rouyn’s three opponents in the playoffs, but at 4v5, they’re not any worse than Halifax’s opponents.
The standings appear to be reasonably accurate when it comes to the teams that lost to the President Cup finalists. Rouyn-Noranda earned the top seed in the league by dominating the regular season and were rewarded for it by getting to warm up against bad teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs before rampaging through Rimouski. Halifax struggled with poor play and injuries late in the year but managed to win their conference and earn favourable match ups in rounds one and two before getting healthy and proving doubters wrong against Drummondville. Based on the numbers and context above, Halifax certainly played tougher overall competition en route to their championship series berth. By my eye, I think I’ve slightly underrated Halifax, but I don’t think Rouyn has been overrated. That said, I don’t believe Halifax should be the favourite to be QMJHL champion, but it adds perspective and, in combination with better Mooseheads health, should make the series against Rouyn-Noranda closer to a coin flip like we’ve seen through four games.
Marcus is full time engineer and part-time hockey stats nerd. He grew up watching the Halifax Mooseheads and now spends his spare time arguing the merits of major junior hockey with anyone that will listen.