The Winter Classic marked a transition to a new year, and the start of the push toward the playoffs. Despite just wrapping up one of the worst months from a results standpoint in the organization's history, the Montreal Canadiens sit as one of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division.
A tumultuous half-season of extreme highs and lows have had players both praised and villified within a 40-game span. Looking back at the 2015-16 season's start as a whole, we can see how the forwards have fared through it all. Limited to those who have played 20 games, the twelve qualifying forwards are listed in descending order by five-on-five ice-time.
Max Pacioretty leads the forward corps with just under 14 minutes of five-on-five time per game, and has been the most effective player at getting shots toward the net, leading in both individual Corsi-for per 60 minutes (iCF/60) of ice time, and his rate of getting those through traffic and on goal (iSF/60).
Pacioretty is tied for the team five-on-five goal lead with Dale Weise, each with eight apiece on the year.
While Pacioretty helps to generate a team-best 12.4 scoring chances per 60 minutes from the most dangerous area of the ice, the Canadiens also experience their highest rate of those quality scoring chances against while the captain is on the ice. Achieving a more positive differential in this category will help the Canadiens achieve more stability in the second half of the season.
Tomas Plekanec has served as Pacioretty's centre on the number-one line for the majority of the season to date. Serving as the set-up man on the top trio, Plekanec hasn't tallied many goals (or shots) to this point, but he leads all forwards in number and rate of assists.
It's a bit surprising to see Tomas Fleischmann as the player with the third-highest ice-time per game. A great start to the season that has the professional tryout signee among the team leaders in points has given Michel Therrien the confidence to give the 31-year-old significant playing time.
After contributing 15 all-situation points in 22 games to start the year however, Fleischmann has just two points in his last 18 contests. Some lineup experimentation necessitated by injuries removed him from the offensively-minded third line and into a more defensive role.
That shift has not worked out well, and Fleischmann sits last in several categories, including shots against and high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes. The Canadiens experienced their biggest deficit in shots allowed versus those taken while he was on the ice; one of just three players to be below 50% in shots-for percentage. He is also tied for the lowest penalty differential, as well, taking six more minors than he has drawn.
A reduction in ice time and being limited to an offensive role will probably be the best scenario for the success of both Fleischmann and the team moving forward.
When looking closely at what Brendan Gallagher has brought to the team in the first year of a team-friendly six-season contract, it becomes clear why the Canadiens struggled so mightily without him.
While out of the lineup recovering from hand surgery, Montreal was without the player who contributes to the highest team shots-, shot-attempts-, and goals-for rates. Gallagher's 56.9% Corsi-for percentage is 1.3 percentage points above what Pacioretty has achieved, and he also leads the team in points per 60 minutes by a small margin over Alex Galchenyuk in second place.
The immediate shift in fortunes the Canadiens enjoyed upon his return, going from a team with the inability to score to one that put up five goals in front of the entire contingent of NHL media at the Winter Classic likely has a few voters entertaining the idea of Hart Trophy candidacy for the Habs' spark plug.
All Stats five-on-five, via WAR On Ice. GP = games played; TOI/G = time on ice per game; iCF/60 = individual Corsi for per 60 minutes of ice time; CF/60 = Corsi-for per 60 minutes; CA/60 = Corsi-against per 60 minutes; CF% = Corsi-for divided by total of Corsi-for and -against; iSF/60 = individual shots-for per 60 minutes; SF/60 = team shots-for per 60 minutes; SA/60 = team shots-against per 60 minutes; SF% = team shots-for divided by total of teams shots-for and -against; ZSO% = offensive zone starts divided by total of offensive and defensive zone starts
David Desharnais is neither first nor last in any of the categories. He has been having a solid offensive season, enjoying his greatest success playing alongside Dale Weise on what was an effective, if overused, second/third line.
Desharnais still has one of the lowest rates of putting shots on the net, and was guilty of passing up shots from prime scoring areas to move the puck to a player at a bad angle in the first half of the season.
He does share the team lead in penalty differential, drawing eight more calls than he's been assessed, thus creating prime opportunities for the Canadiens to put their offence to work.
That plus-eight penalty differential is shared with linemate Weise, who is also tied for the lead in another category: five-on-five goals. While he has only scored two more since a hat trick versus Calgary on October 13th, Weise's 15 five-on-five points have him near the top of the Habs' leaderboard, as he has shown he can be an effective player in the offensive zone.
That could have been used a backhanded compliment last season, as Weise was more likely to be found chasing the puck in his own zone than putting his offensive talents to work. So far this season, however, Weise (like Desharnais) has given the team a slight advantage in the possession and shot departments while on the ice. He currently sits third on the team in individual shot and shot-attempt rate, and, with 81 shots already, is on pace double his career season-high total from last year.
At number two in the shots category is Alex Galchenyuk, who leads the team in five-on-five points despite being down the list, here in seventh position by time on ice.
Getting his first real chance to play centre this season, Galchenyuk has been granted the most offensive deployment on the team to grow accustomed to the demanding position. Getting about two offensive zone starts to every faceoff taken in the defensive zone is a significant contributing factor to his team-low 25.6 shots against per 60 minutes, and has helped he and linemate Lars Eller to have the best high-danger scoring chances-for per 60 minutes on the team.
Despite the friendliest deployment, Galchenyuk is only fourth on the team in individual shots and shot attempts on the team. A more selfish approach to use his excellent wrist shot more often would allow him to keep defenders on their toes, opening up lanes for both himself and his teammates in the offensive zone.
Eller's ice time has gone down to its lowest average in the last five years while serving as Galchenyuk's wingman. The offensive shift hasn't really benefitted Eller, as he's producing at the same rate with an offensive-zone-start percentage of 61.1% as he did at 37.5% last season.
It has led to one the team's lowest shot-against rates, and the best high-danger scoring chances-against pace of any player. Oddly, though, he has suffered the worst goals-against rate of any forward, and has seen more goal celebrations by the opposing team than he has participated in so far this season (as has Pacioretty). That odd scenario may be a factor in the otherwise inexplicably low ice time the line has received thus far.
G = goals; A = assists; P = points; G/60 = goals per 60 minutes of ice time; A/60 = assists per 60 minutes; P/60 = points per 60 minutes; HSCF% = team high-danger scoring chances-for divided by total of high-danger scoring chances-for and -against; HSCF/60 = team high-danger scoring chances-for per 60 minutes; HSCA/60 = team high-danger scoring chances-against per 60 minutes; GF/60 = team goals-for per 60 minutes; GA/60 = team goals-against per 60 minutes
He doesn't seem to believe in passing or shooting the puck, but Paul Byron has managed to contribute four five-on-five goals to go with his three short-handed markers. The Canadiens have gotten very little team offence while Byron has been on the ice, and, of the twelve forwards to play at least 20 games, he has the largest deficit between goals scored and goals allowed.
Devante Smith-Pelly sports the worst shot-attempts-against rate and Corsi-for percentage of all forwards, but few of those attempts come from the most dangerous place on the ice. He has very respectable scoring chance numbers for a player who receives such a defensive deployment.
Torrey Mitchell has had an excellent start to his first full season with the Canadiens. Starting just 34% of his end zone shifts away from his own goaltender, Mitchell has still managed to have the lowest rate of shot attempts against of all forwards, the second-best shots-against rate (just 0.6 behind Galchenyuk), has a positive possession differential, and sees one of the highest shots-for percentages on the team through 29 games.
A hot start to the season has him holding the goals-per-60 lead at the midway point, helped by his four even-strength goals in a five-game span in late October. He won't hold that title when the season ends, but that's not what Mitchell is on the team to do. He's there to take the tough defensive-zone faceoffs and prevent the other team from scoring, and, with the lowest goals-against per 60 of the twelve forwards, that's precisely what he has has been providing for the Canadiens.
Like Mitchell, Brian Flynn has been given a tough deployment so far this season. Unlike Mitchell, he hasn't excelled in the defensive role, though he hasn't failed in it, either. There is virtually no offence to be gained with Flynn on the ice, as he sees next to no time in the offensive zone on his shifts. There isn't much to be lost, either, as he has been fairly effective at keeping his opposition off the board.