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2016-17 Canadiens Season Review: A low shooting percentage belied Brendan Gallagher’s strong season

The feisty forward’s impact on the team can be measured in more than just points.

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Four Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After his 2015-16 season was thwarted by injury, a lot of Montreal Canadiens fans were looking forward to what Brendan Gallagher could do with a healed hand on a revitalized team. Almost his entire hockey career has trended upward, and this season wasn’t expected to be an exception.

Just like in past seasons, Gallagher spent most of his time trying to make the goalie’s life miserable and mixing things up around the net. Unlike past seasons, however, it didn’t pay off in points, as he scored a career low of just 10 goals in 64 games played.

The main factor in Gallagher’s diminished on-ice production was a dramatic drop in shooting percentage. He only scored on 5.3% of his shots in 2016-17, after posting a 10.6% average over his first four NHL seasons. The number of shots he was putting on goal didn’t change: he recorded 187 shots on goal this year (11.61 shots/60), which is right on track with his previous 189-shot average (11.08 shots/60). In terms of looking forward, this is a good sign. An unusually low shooting percentage indicates a likely bounce-back next season, especially from a younger player like Gallagher with consistently high possession numbers.

Michel Therrien habitually used Gallagher as a spark for the rest of the team, but this season Gallagher his usual automatic bump in production. The effects of energy and heart on play are certainly debatable (and he definitely has a lot of both), but those qualities are tough to quantify without some statistical support.

This year, Gallagher once again drove possession and improved the Corsi-for percentage of almost everyone he played with, but the direct production just wasn't there. His CF% on the year was 59.11 at all strengths, good for best on the team, and only Phillip Danault was as good at five-on-five, as they both finished the season at 55.75%. Perhaps more importantly, the other members of the Canadiens saw their possession numbers improve when they were on the ice with Gallagher.

stats: Natural Stat Trick, graph: @the_dailyspice

This season, Gallagher spent his most time at even strength (155:05) on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron; a go-to line for Claude Julien towards the end of the year in particular. Even so, that line accounted for only 16% of Gallagher’s total regular season ice time, as he moved around more this season than any of his past years with the Habs. Last year, even with all of the injuries and desperate line-blending, Gallagher spent almost 50% (433:07) of his time with Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. For the first few seasons of Gallagher’s NHL career, Therrien liked to put him with David Desharnais, but Gallagher proved a better fit with skill players, as he likes to go to the proverbial dirty areas — board battles and around the crease — to either dig the puck out for his linemates or tip in a point shot.

Gallagher and Byron have similar styles but play opposite wings, and were centred by just about every available centreman at various points of the season. Joined by a solid two-way centre in Plekanec, they really got going late in the year. Julien seemed to prefer this line to a more obvious combination of Pacioretty-Alex Galchenyuk-Gallagher, and their numbers together supported the decision.

When Plekanec returned from injury on March 18, he was immediately placed on a line with Byron and Gallagher. In the 11 games they played together to close out the regular season, Plekanec had three goals and an assist, and Gallagher and Byron each had three goals and four assists.

For Montreal line combos that played at least 100 minutes together at 5v5 over the entire 2016-17 season, 41-14-11 came in on top with a CF% of 59.15. It’s not the flashiest line, and Plekanec’s ambiguous future as a potential expansion draft target, makes the longevity of this combination uncertain, but if it’s possible, we may see Julien reunite these three in 2017-18, at least until something better comes along.

For Gallagher, there likely aren’t a lot of changes ahead, from the team’s perspective, even if they do decided to check up the forward corps this summer. Trading him would be foolish, as he’s a 25-year-old possession monster with four years left at only $3.75 M. Even after a rough season in terms of points, there’s no reason to think he won’t still be a top-six guy. In fact, before the Habs signed Alexander Radulov, it was hard to imagine anyone being able to step in for Gallagher as the top line’s right winger at all, and they certainly struggled while he was out in 2015-16.

It won’t be difficult for Gallagher to improve on this season’s offensive output, and Julien will have much more time to tinker with lines going into 2017-18. The possibilities are extensive, if not exactly endless. Giving Gallagher a full season with a new NHL coach who seems to value the type of game he’s always provided gives fans a lot to look forward to.

A season marred by injury and a lack of puck luck may have been disappointing, but his continued dominance in puck possession and habit of producing the best in his linemates inspire far more confidence than the forward’s 10-goal season might suggest.

(all stats from Corsica and Natural Stat Trick)

Poll

Grade Gallagher’s season

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  • 2%
    A+
    (12 votes)
  • 14%
    A
    (59 votes)
  • 28%
    B+
    (119 votes)
  • 33%
    B
    (138 votes)
  • 16%
    C
    (70 votes)
  • 2%
    D
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (4 votes)
413 votes total Vote Now