When the season began, scoring was not an issue for the Canadiens, who led the league in scoring for the first six weeks. Some fans were excited, some very hopeful, and others quietly waiting for the shoe to drop to begin their social media assault with their “I told you so” posts.
Secondary scoring began to become an issue as the New Year began, along with defensive issues. Some of the difficulties could be attributed to injuries. However, depth players, up to that point in the season, had been more than capable of filling the necessary roles to continue a successful season. The dip in play that coincided with the return of the injured regulars, their deployment by the coaching staff, and how their return could have upset team chemistry.
Overall, the Canadiens average 2.71 goals per game, on pace for 222 goals for (GF) over 82 games. This is one more goal than the last two seasons (221 goals scored per season). That pace places them slightly below the NHL average at 17th overall.
Over the 32 games played between January first and March 13th, team scoring has dipped to an average 2.38 GF. This would be a pace of 195 GF over 82 games. That 27 goal dip is a significant drop that raises concerns.
Defensively, the Canadiens fare much better. They are currently sitting in sixth place in the NHL with an average of 2.46 goals against (GA). Again, over the same 32 games from January first to March 13, the team’s defensive play dipped to allow an average of 2.69 GA.
This demonstrates a real drop in overall play, which was the likeliest cause for the coaching change on Valentine’s Day. Since Claude Julien’s hiring, the Canadiens have played 12 games, earning an 8-4 record.
In those 12 games, the GA has been cut significantly to an average of 2.00 GA. This stems partly from the defensive style that Julien employs, which makes Carey Price’s job easier. Mostly, this significant drop in GA is a direct result of Price’s return to his Hart Trophy form of two seasons ago.
The offence has not enjoyed the same dramatic improvement. Over Julien’s 12 games, the Habs have averaged 2.18 GF. This is even less than the previous average that caused such concern.
The reason for the 8-4 record is the team’s ability to keep games to a close, low scoring affair, as well as being able to win those close games. This style, while not ideal for fans, provides the players experience and confidence in that ability prior to the playoffs.
In the week leading up to the trade deadline, Marc Bergevin was a busy man. He added some much needed size and grit to fit the new coach’s game plan. That said, he was unable to address the scoring woes directly by adding a proven top six forward. Had he done so without sacrificing the current core, the Trade Deadline would have been a complete tour de force for the Canadiens.
The question that needs to be answered now, as the glaring need for a top six center was not addressed, is how Julien generates the added scoring that will be needed in the playoffs when teams focus on the Canadiens top scoring forwards. This unscientific poll asked that question, and 58 per cent of 271 fans felt that Charles Hudon was the answer to the scoring woes. Then again, 28 per cent of those polled felt prayer was the answer.
— Blain (@Potsy_70) March 11, 2017
We can take a closer look at these options.
With Sven Andrighetto traded to bring in more size and grit, it leaves a role for an offensively gifted youngster in the Canadiens organization to be filled. Charles Hudon plays a similar style and has the ability to fill the role that was vacated by Andrighetto.
While Hudon has scored 22 goals (G) and 16 assists (A) in 42 games played (GP) for the St. John’s IceCaps in the AHL, there is a valid concern for whether that offence translates to the NHL Level. Hudon has had limited NHL time over two seasons in which he was able to score four assists in six games played. That said, his ankle and sternum injuries have slowed his progression this season.
These injuries have caused some expected consistency issues that have been a concern for management. Bergevin addressed this in his post Trade Deadline press conference:
”C’est possible de le ramener, mais je ne le monterai pas à Montréal pour qu’il s’asseye dans les gradins. S’il produit bien, il n’y a pas de raison pour qu’on ne l’amène pas ici“— Marc Bergevin
In English, this states that Bergevin wants Hudon playing as much as possible to progress, and if his play improves, there is no reason for him not to be called up. With that comment in mind, Hudon seemingly fits into their plans moving forward.
What has made calling Hudon up to the NHL difficult has not been his offensive play in lower levels, which speaks for itself. The issue has been his defensive play and commitment to a consistently high work ethic. There have been lapses in his level of defensive play at times where he has sacrificed positioning to generate offence, which is a style that doesn’t seemingly fit with the current management or coaching system.
Chris Terry is another forward who exhibits the same physical mold as Hudon. With 23 goals and 30 assists in 44 games played, Terry demonstrates a superior playmaking ability to Hudon. He is also more responsible defensively.
His recently signed one-way extension may have been a ploy to be able to leave him unprotected for the expansion draft. That said, his age and NHL experience, along with increased production, would likely leave the door open to him for a call up instead of Hudon. His production at the NHL level is a more proven commodity as well, which could provide the coaching staff more certainty.
Bell Center Bruisers
The newest addition to the Canadiens’ lineup, Steve Ott, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, Jordie Benn, and Brandon Davidson form this group that Bergevin has grafted onto the roster at the deadline. These larger, grittier, players won’t see their names directly on the scoresheet often, but they will impact the game.
Their role will be to wear down the opposition and to grind down their defences. Doing so will allow more time and space for the Canadiens’ offensively gifted forwards. This style of play becomes very important during the playoffs, and it is a style that Julien is known to employ.
This group may indirectly impact the secondary scoring with their defensively responsible and gritty play. While this was an aspect of play that was sorely lacking on Montreal’s roster, and their addition was needed, the direct impact with their individual stats will be minimal.
For those that hold any spiritual leanings, prayer is always encouraged. It may also be the answer. The question is, will the prayer provide tangible benefits on the ice? If the ghosts of the Forum have finally found the right Metro line to the Bell Centre, then maybe.
Feasibly, the answer will come in the form of an unexpected call-up in Jacob de la Rose. He has found some offensive production recently (9G, 14A in 48GP) to go with his NHL-level speed and defensive play. He has been a steady two-way contributor with the IceCaps’ top six, recording six goals and two assists in his last 10 games.
— AHL Report (@TheAHLReport) March 12, 2017
Regardless of which path is selected by Canadiens’ management to add secondary scoring, there will be only one proven method to earn more wins and achieve success in the playoffs this season. That method will be to place the focus on the defensive play to ensure that there is a positive goal differential.
Any call up used to add scoring will first and foremost have to be able to play responsible, defensive, hockey. Playing well defensively will take advantage of the team’s largest strength, an all-world goaltender. This means the Canadiens will only go as deep as Carey Price can take them.
Edited by Donna Sim