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Montreal Canadiens mid-season player review: Max Pacioretty

The captain had a poor first half, but there’s every reason to believe the second will be much better.

Edmonton Oilers v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

With 10 goals on the season, Max Pacioretty is on pace for his lowest total since he scored just three times in his sophomore season. A player who annually leads the Montreal Canadiens in goals currently sits third in that category after 42 games. His four-year streak of scoring at least 30 goals is in jeopardy.

It’s not from a lack of shooting. Should he maintain his current pace, he will set a new career high of around 320 shots on goal, beating his current mark of 303. He hasn’t gone a game without getting a shot on net, and only four times has he registered fewer than two.

It’s also not because he’s not getting those shots from prime scoring areas, as both his individual scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance numbers are right around the same pace they’ve been in every season since the 2012 lockout.

He and his linemates get significantly more shots and scoring chances from the high-danger area right around the net than those they play their shifts against. He also has had a positive effect on the possession games of nearly every player he’s played with.

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The only real difference when comparing statistics from the past few seasons to the first half is a drastic drop in goals-for percentage. Pucks aren’t going into the opposing net while Pacioretty is on the ice, though they are ending up in his.

While luck is definitely playing a part, contributing to a near-career-low shooting percentage of 6.1% and the lowest PDO of all active Canadiens forwards at .956, there have been other contributing factors as well.

Off-season upheaval

After a six-game post-season, the Canadiens made significant changes, parting ways with Nathan Beaulieu, Andrei Markov, and Alexander Radulov.

Those moves had a major impact on Pacioretty, with some of the main contributors to his goals no longer there to set him up. Andrew Zadarnowski broke down just how much of an impact those players had on the captain’s offensive totals last season.

Even-strength assists on Pacioretty’s 2016-17 goals

Player Shared TOI Primary Assists Secondary Assists
Player Shared TOI Primary Assists Secondary Assists
Alexander Radulov 715:01 7 5
Andrei Markov 330:46 2 2
Nathan Beaulieu 360:04 2 2
Tomas Plekanec 186:10 2 1
Jeff Petry 475:04 2 1
Phillip Danault 686:10 2 1
Paul Byron 17:15 1 1
Torrey Mitchell 39:39 1 1
Greg Pateryn 83:24 1 1
Andrew Shaw 176:54 1 1
Alex Galchenyuk 238:57 1 1
Shea Weber 474:31 1 1
Zach Redmond 57:13 1 0
Research credit: Andrew Zadarnowski

In place of those aforementioned players, the Canadiens added Karl Alzner for a more stable defensive presence, Mark Streit to play the role of power-play specialist, and Jonathan Drouin to take on what had been a long-vacant top-line centre role.

Alzner was never going to be an offensive contributor, and a few games of action quickly showed that Streit wouldn’t be, either. The experiment with Jonathan Drouin to centre the Habs’ top goal-scorer, since deemed a failure by the GM, didn’t result in anywhere near the success the captain had with Radulov last season.

The end result is staggeringly low offensive production at five-on-five for Pacioretty. Through 42 games, he has just four goals in that situation, and a mere five assists. This after contributing about 40 five-on-five points when projected to an 82-game season in each of the past six years.

Offensive woes

An inability to get on the scoresheet isn’t just a problem faced by Pacioretty. Forwards underachieving relative to their underlying metrics has been the main theme of this Canadiens season. With the team points lead at just 23 in nearly twice as many games, there’s more going on than just the odd slump or two.

There simply hadn’t been much creativity in the offensive game through the first half. Seldom had the goalie been forced to slide across to make a great save, but rather could get in position to cut off the angle of players bearing down for a shot. What is criticized as a player ‘shooting at the crest’ is often an offensive play that was telegraphed, with few other options, giving time for the netminder to react and therefore having little chance of becoming a goal.

A more acrobatic effort was needed in Thursday’s game versus Tampa Bay — the first game after a players-only meeting a few days prior — with Pacioretty on the receiving end of a cross-crease pass that required a great save from Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Pacioretty did go on to score a goal in that game on one of the other four shots he recorded. And despite it coming with no crested goaltender in the net, his empty-netter on Sunday night, on his sixth shot of the contest, gives him goals in back-to-back games, and will help his confidence during the bye week.

We’ve seen in the past what a confident Max Pacioretty is capable of achieving. With the underlying stats he continues to maintain, as well as a more creative approach to the offence, there’s no reason to believe he won’t return to that form in the latter half of the season.

Stats via Corsica and Natural Star Trick


How do you grade Pacioretty’s first half?

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