Rocket Richard Trophy Headed to Montreal?

There’s a tight race for the NHL regular season goal-scoring title heading into the final 11 games, and Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens is right in the thick of it. Sitting at 33 goals after 71 games, he’s on pace to challenge his career-high 39 goals from 2013-2014 and has a shot at reaching 40 for the first time. Does he also have a chance at his first Maurice Richard Trophy? Some numbers from may hold the answer.

Maurice “Rocket” Richard was the first to score 50 goals in an NHL season. The league now presents a trophy named in his honor to the season’s top goal-scorer. (Kmf164)

Cream of the Crop

The current top six players in NHL goal scoring are Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand with 37 each, Vladimir Tarasenko with 34, and Evgeni Malkin, Patrik Laine, and Pacioretty all tied at 33. Of these players, only Crosby has won the award before. No member of the Canadiens has ever won the trophy since it was donated by the team in 1998-99.

With Evgeni Malkin now injured and sitting out for an undisclosed amount of time, it’s tough to still consider him a horse in the Rocket Richard race. That leaves four players standing in Pacioretty’s way. In general, the Montreal captain stands up very well against the rest of the group. He’s scored 17.5% of his team’s goals so far this year, second only to Marchand’s 18.2%.

Big Fish in a Small Pond?

The problem is Montreal averages 2.70 goals per game, the worst out of all the teams with a player in the goal-scoring top five. If the Canadiens were to continue scoring at that pace to end the year, they’d score 30 more team goals on the season. If Pacioretty scored 17.5% of those he’d increase his total by 5.25 goals. Even allowing him six goals, he’d end the season with 39. That’s not an unrealistic expectation, but it wouldn’t be enough to win the hardware.

Doing the same calculations for the others, the projected finish would be Crosby (43), Marchand (42), Tarasenko (40), Pacioretty (39), and Laine (39).

Players and teams are funny, though. They go hot and cold. One good streak can change everything. Taking a look at the trend for the last 20 games played for each team, the picture changes slightly. Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, and St. Louis have been scoring at a similar rate per game to their season averages. Marchand’s Bruins have been on a recent tear, jumping from a 2.86 goals-per-game average to a whopping 3.9. Pacioretty’s Canadiens have done the exact opposite, slipping to a horrific 1.95. Shockingly, this doesn’t necessarily spell personal disaster.

To You From Failing Hands

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

While the team has slumped offensively over the last 20 games, Pacioretty himself has nine of Montreal’s 39 goals, a healthy 23.1%. This leads the top five in that span. Based on those numbers, Montreal as a team would only get 22 more goals, but Pacioretty would again personally add five or six to his total. He’d be spoiled mainly by Marchand and the Bruins. Even though Boston increased its overall goal scoring, Marchand managed to score at just under a 23% rate himself. He’s got seven goals in his last five games and an unbelievable 18 in his last 20. Running those numbers for all teams of players in the top five, again Pacioretty would find himself in the mix but falling short. The projected finish would be Marchand (47), Crosby (42), Tarasenko (40), and Laine (40), Pacioretty (39).

Making a Sweetheart Deal

What Montreal fans can only hope for is that the teams themselves fall back into scoring at a season-average rate, leveling that playing field, but that all top-five players continue scoring the same percentage of team goals as they had over the last 20 games prior to Saturday.

Pacioretty had scored a staggering 29% of Montreal’s goals from games 51-70. At that rate he’d score 10 out of Montreal’s projected 32 goals in his final 11 games. Adjusting one game back for everyone in the top five, the projected finish would be Pacioretty (43), Marchand (43), Crosby (43), Tarasenko (41), and Laine (40). There is no tie breaker for the Maurice Richard Trophy, so that would mean three winners, including Pacioretty.

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

No one would have banked on Crosby starting the year with 12 goals in 13 games. No one would have banked on Marchand having a run of 18 goals in 20 games. These types of short streaks are what separates the superstars from the stars. While it’s unlikely Pacioretty will end on close to a goal-a-game pace over 11 games, it’s not unrealistic. After all, the difference in goal-scoring pace for five players in one day moves Pacioretty from fifth in the running to a three-way tie for first.  It also bodes well for him that at least two players have already accomplished that feat this year.

At the very least, it will be interesting to see if he can crack the 40-goal plateau (needing seven goals in the final 11 games) and force people to respect him as the premier goal scorer he is.