If there is one thing the Montreal Canadiens can do in the early part of the season, it’s score goals. The Canadiens sit in the top five in the league for most goals scored at even strength. This is a massive increase from last year, when they finished next to last in scoring at 5-on-5. While it’s still very early into the season, it looks like the moves general manager Marc Bergevin made in the offseason have paid off. New additions Max Domi and Tomas Tatar both are thriving in Montreal.
Max Domi extended his point streak to eight games, the longest by player in his first season with the @CanadiensMTL since Martin Rucinsky (8 GP in 1995-96). #NHLStats #MTLvsCGY pic.twitter.com/NS773tgkHo
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 16, 2018
One thing that is noticeable around the league this season, is that scoring has gone up a tick. The Canadiens currently sit around the middle of the league in terms of goals per game with 3.2. Last year, only eleven teams finished with a goal rate over 3.0. This year there are twenty-one teams above that line and even more are just on the cusp of that line. A big reason for this is because the speed of the game is continuously getting faster. Montreal is a much faster and more skilled team than they were last season. They are not relying on one or two skilled players to produce, and because of this, head coach Claude Julien is able to utilize a much more balanced attack.
What’s Been Working
Last year, Montreal struggled to score, and finished second from the bottom with a goals-per-game rate of 2.5. That is not the case this season, as they are producing at a much higher and consistent rate. There are two factors to the noticeable difference. First, this team is one of the youngest in the league, and the players in the dressing room are buying into Julien’s style of hockey. The young group of forwards are being led by Domi, Tatar, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The forwards are playing at such a high level right now, that teams are having problems containing them from entering the offensive zone.
Domi is off to a booming start in his first season with the blue, blanc et rouge. He has come into Montreal after a rough season in Arizona and has taken over centre responsibilities; something the man he was traded for could not. Domi is currently leading the team in goals 10 and points 23, and has created great chemistry with linemate Drouin.
The second noticeable thing is coaching. The Canadiens emphasized youth and coaching in training camp, and new additions behind the bench in Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have been helping out tremendously. The extra bit of preparation, teaching, and attention to detail have translated from practice into points in the standings. Each player is playing as one cog in the wheel and every player is filling his role.
What Still Needs to Be Fixed
Right now the Achilles heel of the team is defense = they are terrible in their own end. However, the biggest problem is on the power play and with face-offs. The Canadiens have given up the fifth-most goals in the conference and sit 30th in the league on the power play. Their struggles on the power play stem from being too predictable. The Canadiens over the last decade have utilized big powerful shots from the point on special teams.
Related: Canadiens Need Weber Back Now
In Shea Weber’s first year with the team, he scored 12 of his 17 goals on the power play. Without him, the Canadiens still try and work the umbrella style power play with Jeff Petry being the big shot, and it has not worked. Also, for some reason, with a man advantage, they rely too much on one singular person to get the job done, but once it goes back to even strength their speed kicks in and everything starts flowing again.
#Habs are even worse on faceoffs than they are on the power play, ranking last in the NHL at 45 per cent
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) November 16, 2018
What’s even more remarkable is that for all the face-offs that the Canadiens lose they still own the majority of the puck possession in the games. The current goal rate is something that will be hard to sustain as the season goes along, and if the Canadiens want to make it into the playoffs they will need more then just even strength goals. For a team that traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, and has been missing Shea Weber since the start of the season, they are exceeding everyone’s expectations.