Can Domi Get His Game Back?

It’s fair to say that Max Domi has made quite the splash in his short time with the Montreal Canadiens. Since being traded for Alex Galchenyuk in June 2018, the 24-year-old forward has embraced his new home in Montreal, even claiming that he would like to remain a “Hab for life.” He even got his father, the infamous former Toronto Maple Leaf, Tie Domi to sport a Canadiens sweater and support his former team’s longtime rival.

The Canadiens have been crowned the clear winners of this trade when Domi put up 33 points in his first 35 games with the club. Meanwhile, Galchenyuk produced a measly 41 points in his first season with the Arizona Coyotes. Domi has been feeling the love from the fans, who have responded favorably to his electric and unhinged style of play.

Domi’s pace slowed down but he still finished the season on a very strong note, with 28 goals and 72 points. His production as of late has not been meeting expectations. Many are remarking that the young forward is not showing the same spark he showed fans and teammates last year. As of Nov. 24, Domi has six goals and 16 points in 23 games. That ranks him fifth among his teammates in offensive production.

A Slow Start

Another career year for the Toronto native was expected as the 2019-20 season got started. While the team got off to a good start, Domi did not quite have the explosive start we saw from him last season – even though he was still averaging about a point per game in his first 10 games.

Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Suddenly, he slowed down, scoring only three points in his last 10 games before adding three more to his sheet Nov. 23 against the New York Rangers. Domi is known for his hot temper on the ice, so fans and management hope that the fiery forward channels his frustration into goals instead of penalty minutes.

Shuffling Linemates

Domi had success in the first part of 2018-19 when he shared a line with Jonathan Drouin. But coach Claude Julien split the pairing up in January and they played the rest of the season apart. Domi’s production slowed down substantially in the season’s second half as he scored only one goal in his final 26 games. He also went through a fairly long pointless streak.

Julien finally reunited the pairing at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season and saw some promising results. Both players showed some good chemistry. And, Drouin began to really heat up before suffering a wrist injury that will keep him out for at least eight weeks. With Byron also out, offense from Domi is essential for the Habs to keep winning. As of late, he has been stationed as a winger on the second line along with Joel Armia and Nick Suzuki. However, against the Rangers, Julien decided to bring Domi back to the center position that brought him success. The coach might just continue to use him down the middle if the points start to add up.

Positional Identity Crisis

The Canadiens coaching staff are often criticized for turning wingers into centers and vice versa. These changes can negatively affect a young player’s confidence and development but the fact remains that Domi was more effective offensively as a centerman – even though it was not his primary position. The Canadiens now find themselves in a bit of a pickle because of their abundance of centers. They now have depth down the middle with players like Philip Danault, Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling. Even Jordan Weal and veteran, Nate Thompson have proven themselves capable of holding down the fourth line.

A year ago, the Habs were desperate for centermen and Domi proved himself a good temporary solution to that problem. The coaching staff has to decide between letting their “real” centers develop or giving Domi the best opportunity to produce. With all of the centers available, he no longer has to fill that slot. It might be time for the young winger to get comfortable in the position he originally intended to play, even though he seems more comfortable down the middle.

In the Public Eye

There is also another factor that may be affecting the player’s numbers – and that’s the pressure of being a Canadien. The pressure that comes with playing in Montreal is known around the league. Living under that microscope is the reason many players shy away from signing with the Original Six club. However, some players thrive under fan and media scrutiny.

Max Domi, David Schlemko, Paul Byron
Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Domi, center, celebrates with teammates David Schlemko and Paul Byron after scoring. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Domi appears to be of the latter category. He has embraced playing in a big market and it is clear that he is far from shy. He even published a book earlier this year which has helped in garnering him near-celebrity status, making him one of the better-known faces around the league (and the entire game). Despite the benefits of being a known player, these blessings can turn sour when that player isn’t producing what’s expected of him – making it all the more difficult to cope with and get back on track.

Mind Over Matter

Despite not scoring in his last nine games before his two-goal performance against the Rangers, Domi has been keeping a positive mindset. He addressed the media before Saturday’s game, in response to recent questions about his performance.

“This is where you have an opportunity to kind of really show yourself what you’re made of and get yourself through the tough times, because that’s when your true character comes out, right?” (from ‘Max Domi ‘not hitting the panic button’ on scoring slump’ Montreal Gazette, 10/22/2019).

In his recent interview with Stu Cowan, he also established that he has not lost confidence in himself in acknowledging that he is not alone in his recent offensive drought.

Carolina Hurricanes Erik Haula Montreal Canadiens Max Domi
Carolina Hurricanes’ Erik Haula reaches across Montreal Canadiens Max Domi (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

“When adversity hits … it’s not always going to be easy. The game’s tough. It’s a very, very tough game, the best league in the world. Some of the best players in the world go through droughts and they don’t score. If they can do it, then everyone can and you just got to find a way to get through it.”

When cold streaks come around, they are often difficult to shake off – even harder when there are this many eyes on you. Above all, Domi needs to find a way to resurrect the unique and exciting elements of his game and get back to his usual pace. While Saturday’s three-point performance was the silver lining in an otherwise disappointing night for the Habs, only time will tell if Domi will be consistent and reliable.