David Desharnais is currently mired in a cold streak of a single point in nine games. Used on a line whose only real job is to create offense, this has been an incredible drag on the Montreal Canadiens' performance through the first month of the season.
Desharnais' lack of production has seen him become scapegoat number one in the eyes of most fans and media, even getting ripped recently on RDS. His struggles have forced Michel Therrien to shuffle his lines in order to get something out of him, which brings to mind a similar situation from two years ago, as an injury-riddled Scott Gomez bumbled his way to 11 points in 38 games.
Desharnais has the advantage of being paid slightly under half the salary that Gomez was making, so the visceral hate from fans hasn't come to a boiling point yet, but it's getting there. And would you believe that even in Gomez's worst season, he didn't go 10 games with just a single point? He had a 15 game streak with two points, within it two stretches of nine games with just a single point, but never more than Desharnais' current streak.
Christopher Boucher sought to quantify the struggles of Desharnais with his event tracking, noting a decrease in his success rate on various plays through the first four games of the season, but even that analysis seemed to paint him in a brighter light than what I've been seeing.
Like Gomez, surface level analysis of David Desharnais' possession statistics seems to show that Desharnais is doing just fine with a 56.7% Fenwick at even strength, however breaking it down a little further, we can go game by game and discover if he's really been that impressive.
|Game||Center||Fenwick %||Left Wing||Fenwick %||Right Wing||Fenwick %||Linemate AVG||DD Relative|
What I've done here is plotted Desharnais' game by game Fenwick against the linemates he had on each night, then created a rough relative statistic for the lines, showing how much better or worse than the players he was playing with he was on each given night. What we can see is that Desharnais' linemates have outproduced him at even strength six of nine games, which isn't a good sign.
We can also see that on an average night, Desharnais is outproduced by his linemates from a possession perspective by 3.33 percentage points, which doesn't seem to bad but it's actually fairly significant. It hints to us that even with linemates that aren't considered great possession players, like Danny Briere or Rene Bourque, Desharnais is still being carried.
Going into more detail, we can look to stats.hockeyanalysis.com and look at Desharnais' WOWY statistics, and see that Desharnais drops from a mid-60% Corsi player while on the ice with P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges, to about 48% without them. That's not an uncommon thing to happen for anyone though, as Subban boosts everyone and playing without him leads to fewer shots for and more shots against.
But breaking it down further, we can also see how much Desharnais contributes to his own Fenwick from an offensive standpoint. Desharnais is of essentially zero value in the defensive zone, so focusing on offense should make him look better.
|Player||Personal Fenwick for per 60 minutes|
Yes, Desharnais' is a pass-first player, but creating the fewest shooting opportunities himself is yet another mark against him in this young season. So what can be done here? Is he a lost cause like Gomez was? Are the Canadiens destined to constantly juggle line combinations to get this guy going?
Well, for the time being, the two players he's been best with this season are out for three and four weeks, respectively. With Pacioretty and Prust both out, Therrien has correctly identified that Bourque is the guy that Desharnais needs, and their results together have been acceptable, but the second winger is more of a conundrum.
You also have to consider what you're doing to the rest of the lineup by having to so carefully manage who Desharnais plays with. Without Pacioretty in the lineup, I don't think this is a huge issue though.
Desharnais may be running out of time though, as the weight of expectations are now on the Canadiens, and through nine games their record does not represent their level of play. Last season with essentially no expectations of a competitive team, it took 19 games of Erik Cole producing at nearly three times the rate that Desharnais has before he was sent packing. I don't get the feeling that Bergevin is afraid to make moves, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's willing to take less value back than expected for Desharnais.
And with Michael Bournival knocking at the door, Desharnais is going to have to learn how to answer.
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