(Photo by Joel LeMay, Agence QMI)

by Mathieu Chagnon, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Being ranked near the bottom of the league in the ‘goals for per game’ category isn’t something with which Marc Bergevin can be happy. The Canadiens must have known that they were not going to be a top tier in the offensive production, but did they expect to be this anemic?

But here’s the question: which forwards are bringing a positive contribution to this team and which ones are not? Marc Bergevin said ‘the answer is in the room.’ So who holds the key?

Before reading the following analysis based on the eSAT metric, you might want to refer to  articles describing how it is derived and what it can tell you. You can find them here: “Introducing eSAT” and “eSAT quality of opposition and teammates”.

Max Pacioretty

Let’s start with the captain. Pacioretty has received a lot of criticisms in this first half of season. Does he deserve it? One thing is for sure, his production is not at the level we used to seeing from him.

Before January first, Pacioretty was on a pace for 16 goals season. Yet, he will be the first to tell you that he would like to produce more at this level. Still, Pacioretty is creating a lot of offensive pressure, and at this rhythm, he could be hitting career high in body checks and shots on goal.

However, these efforts are not converting into goals for his team. The result is this: while  on the ice at five-on-five, Pacioretty’s effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for against his opposition (eSAT FAO) shows a rating of 42.9 percent. Quick note, to be on the positive chart of these stats must be over 50 percent.

His insufficient contribution on the offense, could have been countered by a stronger defense, but it’s not the case. Still at five on five, his opposition-suppression on the effectiveness-of-the shot-attempts-against (eSAT AOS) is at 44.7 percent.

These numbers have been mainly influenced by the fact that Pacioretty could only find chemistry while playing with Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw. The effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for above-replacement (eSAT FAR) and the effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-against above-replacement (eSAT AAR) are much superior when combined with these two than any other combination.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Jonathan Drouin

After being acquired at a very high price, the expectations from the fans and the media on the young talented forward were high. The unexpected twist came as the Canadiens decided to deploy him as a centreman. This didn’t turn out they way the organisation hoped for, as we saw Drouin struggling to produce.

On his mid-season press conference, Marc Bergevin admitted this wasn’t an ideal solution, but that in their opinion they didn’t had a better option in hand. From Claude Julien’s perspective, experience at centre can only help Drouin in his development.

On the technical point of view and looking at the evolution of Jonathan Drouin’s effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for above-replacement (eSAT FAR), we can clearly see it’s getting more and more difficult for him the create good opportunities in the offensive zone.

On the other hand, the evolution of his effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-against above-replacement (eSAT AAR) is getting closer to the 50 percent mark, showing a better defensive awareness.

If we compare it to the CF% metric, which is the measurement of the shot-attempts-for versus the shot-attempts-against, we can observe that the volume of shot attempts on the opponent net is getting lower than the volume allowed. This makes us understand that Drouin is spending more time on defense than offense, despite that the defensive work is more efficient than earlier in the season.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Marc Bergevin also declared that there was no chemistry between Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin, which is true when Drouin at center. At five-on-five, the eSAT FAR with Pacioretty is at 40.4 percent, but on the power-play, where Drouin is not playing has a center, the eSAT FAR jumps to 53.3 percent.

Still, if the Canadiens want to continue using Drouin as a center his best line mates this season have been Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Brendan Gallagher

Brendan Gallagher is having a superb comeback season. This must be a huge relief for his fans seeing him back as a regular fixture near the blue paint. Gallagher had to battle with hand injuries in two consecutive seasons, that could have played in his mind and changed his game play.

Like most of the team, Gallagher hasn’t been able to surpass the opposition he played against. The effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for above the opposition (eSAT FAO) was inferior at 45.7 percent. On defense though, the opposition-supression of the effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-against (eSAT AOS) was superior at 52.2 percent.

The spark effect to reanimate other players that created Gallagher in the previous season, hasn’t been the same this season. Most of his success have been collected when playing with Charles Hudon and Tomas Plekanec. However, we cannot say the same when he was with Pacioretty and Drouin.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Charles Hudon

The rookie is having a very interesting beginning in the NHL, and the future seems very bright for him. Hudon have showed us impressive play-making skills, but sadly, those plays have rarely converted into goals.

While acknowledging that Hudon has been in a drought in December, we can be confident this won’t last. Here is why: when Hudon was on the ice at five-on-five from September to December, there were 5.7 scoring chances generated, culminating in .27 points per game. In December, there was 6.1 scoring chances and only .10 points per game.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Alex Galchenyuk

It took 12 games to see Alex Galchenyuk and his linemates to start bringing some offense. On the other hand, in that drought, he was playing rather well defensively. After that point, Galchenyuk has been on a steady progression, which could be encouraging for the second half of the season.

The other problem for Galchenyuk’s first half is that he was trying to find chemistry with his teammates. He has been used on few different combinations with a limited success.

To tell truth, his most notable success occurred during the Drouin injury, where he was combined with Paul Byron and Jacob De La Rose. When that trio was assembled, they showed an impressive effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for above-replacement of 69.4 percent.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Philip Danault

Philip Danault is not supposed to be a number center, nevertheless he is the best natural center that the Canadiens have at this time. In fact, he seems to be the only center being able to make Max Pacioretty produce, since David Desharnais. Plus, Danault had his best moments when he was put in that role last season with Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov,.

It would have been interesting to see him centering Pacioretty and Drouin, but that didn’t happen. Still, the trio he formed with Pacioretty and Andrew Shaw gave decent performances.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw is providing exactly what he is supposed to bring. The problem is that the Canadiens are one of the worst offensive team in the league therefore he finds himself as the seventh the top scorer of his team.

Shaw’s point total is mainly due to the success he had with Danault and Pacioretty, as shown in the graphic above. Shaw’s success at faceeoff circle, where he’s tops for Habs centres, has helped with his offensive game. This provided Shaw shifts on the power-play where he added seven points.

Shaw showed an effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for against-opposition of 48.2 percent and an opposition-suppression of the effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-against of 48.7 percent.

Tomas Plekanec

Tomas Plekanec is now ranked ninth in total games played with the bleu-blanc-rouge all-time recently surpassing the legendary Guy Lafleur. If he can complete the season in Montreal, Plekanec could reach the thousand game mark with the same organisation.

Let’s put a big IF there, because with the disastrous season of the Canadiens Plekanec could become an interesting option for a team that would like a reliable third center.

Plekanec has always been a very reliable two-way forward, but time seems to have caught up on him as his offensive production has considerably diminished. The main criticism we can level towards Plekanec is that some contend that his offensive production slows down towards the end of the season and in the playoffs.

This trend could be observed by looking at the eSAT% evolution through the seasons. Looking at the blue line on the graphic below, since the season 2009-10, if we draw a straight line from the beginning of the season till the end of it, the downtrend is very noticeable on each season except on the lock-out season and the 2014-15 season.

The red line is the CF% is there for the comparison purpose, to show that there’s no correlation between it and the player performance. As for example, if you look at the season 2009-10, the CF% is below the fifty percent line, still Plekanec recorded is best season in career, and this is easily correlated with the eSAT% line, which stayed way over fifty percent the whole season.

Data from 2007 to January 1st 2018

Jacob De La Rose

De La Rose is often unfairly mocked by the mainstream media for his offensive production. Most forget that he’s only 22 years old. He might not have the potential to be on the top two lines in the NHL, but he has every tool to be a very efficient fourth line center, who can play a key role on the penalty-kill.

While it is true that De La Rose hasn’t helped to raise the effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-for against-opposition with a ratio of 31.4 percent which is way below the rest of the team. On the other hand, the opposition-suppression of De La Rose for effectiveness-of-the-shot-attempts-against on the penalty-kill is at an elite class at 76.6 percent.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

When he was asked to replace Drouin, De La Rose stated to show more confidence in his play and started to create more offense. He might never be an elite player on this matter, but he just need to gain confidence and should bring the offense we expect for a fourth line player.

Nicolas Deslauriers

Nicolas Deslauriers has become rapidly a fan favorite, not because he’s electrifying but because he leaves his heart on the ice. Since he joined the Canadiens he has been playing his best hockey in his career.

The fact that he’s playing for his childhood team must reinforce the proudness to wear the Canadiens jersey. You can see how much this means to him when you compared the involvement numbers. In Buffalo he had 2.97 hits and .35 blocked shots per games, and in Montreal he has 4.24 hits and .48 blocked shots per games.

But his contribution doesn’t end there. In all the situations, the effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-for against his opposition was at a rating of 49.2 percent, but most impressively the opposition-suppression on the effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-against is at 84.8 percent.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

It should be noted that the quality of opposition was conceding a rating of the effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-against of 49.7 percent, just under the league average. And that opposition could develop an effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-for at 48.5 percent.

Paul Byron

Paul Byron has been the go to guy for coach Julien to create the spark for a struggling line. After having considerable success with De La Rose and Galchenyuk in December, Byron  was placed on a line with Danault and Pacioretty. That didn’t work at all. Since then, Byron was tried with Drouin and Pacioretty, which didn’t work either.

We can affirm that Byron has great chemistry Pacioretty. In fact, the effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-for when they are put together is at 24.7 percent, while allowing an effectiveness-of-the-shots-attempts-against of 42.8 percent.

Evaluating Byron at five-on-five brings an offensive contribution of a third or fourth line while being reliable on defense. But he can still help on top lines in case of injuries.

Data extracted on January 1st 2018

Conclusion

A quick look at the actual portrait of the Canadiens reveals that they don’t have many players who are worthy of a top six role. The players that could be considered in that list would be Pacioretty, Drouin, Galchenyuk and maybe you can add Gallagher.

But the Habs have plenty of players who are capable third-liners. They will have to make a decision on who to retain as the trade deadline nears. Here is the list of third-line players: Danault, Hudon, Lehkonen, Plekanec and Shaw.

However, on their fourth line they have very good assets in De La Rose, Deslauriers and Byron who can be good role players.

To sum up, let’s start with the obvious, the Canadiens don’t have a number one centreman and this creates a lot of problems balancing the lines. They’ve tried Jonathan Drouin, and that didn’t work out so well.

If they want to reverse that situation fast, it will be by either acquiring one via trade (and giving away an important piece), or wishing they could grab John Tavares on the free agent market. Nevertheless, this problematic should be on the top list of priorities for Marc Bergevin (as it has been for six years.)

In the case of Plekanec, it is reasonable to think he won’t be back next season, therefore he could be dealt before the deadline.

Danault would be better fit as a third line center, but in the short term they could make him fill the second line center role and hope that Ryan Poehling develops into that role.

Meanwhile the third line could be Shaw, Hudon and Lehkonen. The two young players that are still in development could get some ice time on the top lines in case of injuries, leaving a spot open for another player in the Canadiens pipeline, like Scherbak.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I’m a Star Wars fan, so let me finish with this. There’s a lot of incertitude with the forwards, and it all seems to be built on hope. In Star Wars, the rebellion was built on hope, and in the end it was the Rebels that won the war, could it be the same for the Canadiens?