The driving force behind the increase in scoring is not necessarily the personnel, but rather the system the Habs’ head coach installed.
We’ve almost reached the three quarter-mark of the NHL season and there’s no doubt the Canadiens, along with the New York Islanders, are the surprise teams of the year.
When you think of head coach Claude Julien’s modus operandi, the first thing that probably comes to mind is his obsession with playing a sound defensive game. And while the Canadiens aren’t remotely close to the worst defensive team in the league, they’re not among the NHL’s elite when it comes to how many shots or scoring chances they allow. However, they’ve more than compensated for their defensive woes with their ability to sustain a constant flow of offence.
The Canadiens rank second in the NHL in shots per 60 minutes, sixth in scoring chances per 60 and seventh in goals per 60. To get an idea of their massive improvement in those areas, last season they ranked 13th in shots per 60, 18th in scoring chances per 60 and a pitiful 30th in goals per 60.
While the Canadiens were probably a better team than their results indicated last season, they simply could not attain any level of reasonable offence. The outcome ended up being great when we consider the team was rewarded for its failure with the third overall pick, and the rest is history.
One of the main reasons the Canadiens have been able to sustain a high level of offence this season is their fantastic depth. They have three lines that can score on any given night, which means they don’t have to rely on two or three players to do the majority of the heavy lifting.
When it comes to offensive production, eight of the top-nine forwards are enjoying a significant uptick over last year’s scoring rate.
There are a few very interesting things we can take away from the accompanying graph.
First off, Tomas Tatar’s 2.64 points per 60 is a higher scoring rate than any player on the Golden Knights’ roster. As much as we should give Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin credit for the trade that brought Tatar to Montreal, you have to wonder what his Vegas counterpart, George (Oops) McPhee, was thinking when he essentially gave Tatar away a few months after acquiring him for a first-, second- and third-round draft pick.
As is the case with Tatar, Max Domi is eclipsing the production he had with his former team by a significant margin. That gives you a pretty good indication that the driving force behind the overall increase in scoring is not necessarily the personnel, but rather the system put in place by Julien this season. Everyone is scoring more, not only the new guys.
As for the holdovers, Andrew Shaw leads the charge, more than doubling his output last season. And while he’s had his fair share of injuries, there’s no denying Shaw has played fantastic hockey.
We should also note the significant improvements for Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, made all the more impressive by the fact they face their opponents’ best lines every game. Their current linemate, Jonathan Drouin, is enjoying the fruits of their labour and has improved his scoring rate to the point that there’s little doubt he’ll set career-best numbers this season.
All and all, it has been a staggering change for the Canadiens. And, regardless of the results, the team is playing a very exciting brand of hockey, which is often the forgotten aspect when it comes to statistical analysis — but it remains very important to the fans, and rightfully so.
There are some players susceptible to offensive regression on the team, notably Domi and Shaw, but in the grand scheme of things, the Canadiens aren’t playing over their heads in the offensive zone. They have three lines that control the shots and scoring chances during almost every outing. And if one lines goes cold, there are two other lines to pick up the slack.
That’s the sign of a healthy team, and a lot of the credit has to go to Julien, who is a likely finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy this season.
Marc Dumont is an analyst and editor for The Athletic Montreal.
(All statistics are via Natural Stat Trick, 5-on-5 unless otherwise specified.)