Players’ Pace And How Hughes Can Improve Offense

There are many reasons why the Montreal Canadiens are sitting in the basement of the NHL. Long term injuries to key players are a major factor, no doubt, but it’s more than that. And everyone from the coaching staff to the players share part of the blame. The defense is porous to say the least, the offense is almost non-existant, the goaltenders can’t be counted on for consistency and the special teams simply aren’t doing their job. The coaches are also making questionable decisions and can’t seem to find the right buttons to push to motivate the group.

Offense by the numbers

There have been so many players in and out of the line-up, so many players who played their first NHL game this season with the Canadiens, that it’s hard to come up with a list when trying to look at their career best. Some veteran players haven’t even touched the ice yet this season and Paul Byron has been back for only one game!

Still, I have created a list of 18 Habs’ players, not in their first year, and compared their production this season and the estimated the pace that they’re on. I have also included their career best (in points, as we’re talking offense), and the pace they were on at that time. And as you can imagine, it’s not pretty. Most are well below their points per game pace from their career year. Many are well below their career average points per game as well.

2021
2022
Career
Best
NAMEGPGAPtsPts/GPPaceGPGAPtsPts/GP
Anderson3397160.4834822720470.57
Armia321450.1611581614300.52
Chiarot415490.221769912210.30
Drouin32614200.6344732132530.73
Dvorak3479160.4734701820380.54
Evans3666120.332547310130.28
Gallagher2646100.3824823123540.66
Hoffman2977140.4832823634700.85
Kulak381780.211657611170.30
Lehkonen41712190.4636821120310.38
Paquette240220.08564127190.30
Perreault143140.2915651332450.69
Petry371560.1612821333460.56
Romanov412570.1713541560.11
Savard421890.2123821125360.44
Suzuki44918270.6150561526410.73
Toffoli33916250.7654823127580.71
Wideman3128100.322276512170.22

As you can see, only Tyler Toffoli, Jake Evans, Artturi Lehkonen, Alexander Romanov and Chris Wideman have a points per game average higher than their career best. The biggest drop and the one that hurts the most is obviously Jeff Petry’s. At 0.08 points per game, Cedric Paquette’s offensive production ressembles more the blood/alcohol limit to legally drive, than it does NHL caliber offensive production.

The Canadiens are 31st in the NHL, scoring on average 2.23 goals per game so the stats shown above are not surprising.

Offense starts on defense

I am a strong believer that offense starts from the defense. In order to generate offense, you must first do the following five things:

  1. be able to keep the puck out of your own net and that involves all five players on the ice
  2. be able to get the puck out of your zone quickly as the less amount of time in your zone, the fewer the odds the opponent will score
  3. be capable of regaining possession when the opponent as the puck in your zone and again, that’s on all five players
  4. be able to, as a defenseman, hit the forwards in full stride with an accurate pass
  5. have the skating ability to be able to better support the offense and back check when caught in the offensive zone

If you can do this, only then can you focus on generating offense as you can’t score if you don’t have the puck and waste your energy defending. I’ve always told the players that I’ve coached that it takes twice as much energy to try regaining possession than it does skating and passing the puck. A hockey puck is quicker than any skater out there so puck possession and good puck movement are key.

Hughes’ focus

Too many people think that Kent Hughes’ main focus should be on finding top-end talent up front, some true offensive skills. While they are not wrong in their assessment of the Canadiens needing that, it is not the team’s true number one priority. You can have McDavid and Draisaitl but if you can’t defends, retrieve pucks in your zone, and hit those guys on the fly, they won’t be efficient and the team will lose games regardless.

Kent Hughes

The true, number one focus for Hughes and the Habs is to revamp that defense. One of the key stats they need to keep an eye on is takeaways, keeping in mind skating ability and good first passes. Right now, this defense cannot retrieve pucks in their zone, spending way too much time chasing the opponent, resulting in defensive breakdowns. Aggressive puck pursue, strong back pressure, gap control, all require good skating ability, good positioning to cut passing lanes and having a good stick for puck retrieval.

If they do that, even the forwards that they currently have will have better offensive production as their energy will be spent attacking instead of chasing the puck in their zone. Right now, they defend for a minute or so, and as soon as they get the puck, they’re exhausted and need to change. So they give the puck to the opponent who, once again, attacks and the next line for the Canadiens ends up defending too.

So by all means, they should look for skilled forwards, but that need is secondary to the team’s biggest need, which is revamping the defensive core. And that’s when an improved analytical department, in combination with the good old eye test, can help find those players who can and will retrieve pucks and turn the tides from defense to offense. Once that’s taken care of, watch Suzuki, Caufield, Hoffman and even Drouin take off.

More reading…

Some Fans And Their Evaluations by Marc-André Breault

LeBrun: NHL Executive Points to The Stars

Damaging Fans and Media Behaviour