Montreal Canadiens: Hope to be had in slow offensive start

A look at how the numbers show that there is no reason to be too worried about the Montreal Canadiens slow offensive start.

Expectations always run high for the Montreal Canadiens, especially coming off a division title. With Carey Price in net, Claude Julien’s team should be in nearly every game they play in. It’s finding enough offense to go along with the defense and goaltending that remains the problem.

During the 2016/17 season, the Canadiens were the third-stingiest team in the league for goals allowed. They finished middle of the pack (15th) with 226 total goals scored.

To help boost their offense, Montreal made one of the biggest moves this offseason by acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning, in exchange for prized defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

While still early in the season, the extra offense they had hoped for has been nonexistent, as Montreal has fluttered to a 1-3 start.

What’s worse, is that they have scored just four physical goals this season in the first four games. They won their season opener by the score of 3-2, but the third goal came by ways of winning in a shootout.

Just how bad have things gone? Not only have they yet to register a power-play goal, but they haven’t fared too much better at even strength.

Montreal has averaged just 0.66 goals-per-60 minutes (GF/60) at even strength, the worst in the league. Their 1.79 shooting percentage is also last among the now 31 teams in the National Hockey League.

Four games aren’t enough to doom an entire season, actually far from it, and while it may be a rough start for the Canadiens, there is actually some hope that things may turn around.

Puck possession

Analytics is still a hot topic for the hockey world. Most inside the sport find themselves at either end of the spectrum for or against the use of it to evaluate players. If used right, it can help find trends in game play.

For the Canadiens, it has shown that just about the only thing they are not doing right, is putting the puck in the net.

For puck possession, also called Corsi-For percentage (CF%), only the Florida Panthers have a higher mark than the Canadiens. Corsi measures shot attempts to determine just how much time a team might spend in the offensive or defensive zone.

The more shot attempts you have, the more likely it is that you spend most of your time in the offensive zone because you need to have the puck to generate shots.

So the fact that Montreal is spending so much more time in the offensive zone, it shouldn’t come as a surprise they are also among the leaders in actual shots on net per game. At even strength, the Canadiens have averaged 36.78 shots-per-60 minutes (SF/60) which ranks fifth in the league.

They are getting the right shots on net

Any shot on net has the potential to go in the net. Several factors can happen on the most innocent of shots whether it be a screen or deflection.

Even considering that, some shots just have a better chance of going in than others. Whether it be from the type of shot or where on the ice it was taken, the more prime opportunities you have, the more you should end up scoring.

Expected goals (xGF) for is a way to measure how many times a certain team should have scored, based on the location and type of shot on net. A higher xGF means that, based on your shot selection, you should score a lot of goals.

Sometimes that doesn’t translate to real life success, but it could show if a team is getting lucky, or in Montreal’s case, unlucky.

Montreal’s expected goals for-per-60 minutes (xGF/60) is 2.67, good for 13th in the NHL. This hasn’t translated into actual success for the Canadiens, but it could eventually lead to more goals.

A lone bright spot

If there is a single best example of what has gone on this season for the Canadiens, it’d be the line of Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, and Tomas Plekanec. Combined, they have registered a lone goal, by Plekanec, but have still been one of the strongest lines in all of hockey.

Their CF% is 68.27%, best among all trios who have played at least 30 minutes together at even strength. When it comes to xGF/60, they only trail a pair of lines that feature Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews on them.

The Canadiens have a big matchup Friday night at home against Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs. They will need to capitalize on every opportunity they get as Toronto is second in the league in scoring.

After that, Montreal heads out West for a California road trip to face each team in the Golden State.

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