Max Pacioretty had an interesting year. He may also quite possibly be the best representation for much of the Montreal Canadiens’ 2017-18 season.
The disappointing natures of the player and the team are fairly obvious when looking at the overall numbers on the surface, but when we break down Pacioretty’s usage on the power play and the penalty kill, a different story unfolds. There is one overarching theme in this analysis: he was capable of producing great individual stats, but his actual conversion rate was uncharacteristically low.
Breaking down Pacioretty’s numbers, his performance on the power play was close to his usual standards.
In an injury-shortened season, Pacioretty produced 15 power-play points, just two behind his career best, and matched a career high for total assists. Projecting his offence out to the average 81-game season he had played in the previous three years, he would have set a new mark in his man-advantage production.
Yet two things stand out immediately. The first is that his shooting percentage is much lower than previous years, and the other being that his iCF (individual Corsi for, or shot attempts) is higher than any other point in his career. In 64 games this year, Pacioretty sent 105 shots toward opposing net; 10 more than his previous best despite playing in 18 fewer games, on a lottery team in the NHL. He was getting plenty of high-danger chances (27 by himself) and creating scoring (53) and rebound chances (14), but he just wasn’t getting the rewards one would expect from the uptick in pucks going toward the net.
The man advantage was just one situation in which Pacioretty’s shooting percentage was well below his normal efficiency. Since joining the Canadiens full time, he’s dipped below 12.5% in shooting percentage just twice: once was during the 2011-12 season where the Habs ended up drafting third overall while Pacioretty shot 9.3%, and then this past year when he clocked in at 10.91% as the Canadiens finished fourth from the bottom in the standings.
Pacioretty was clearly creating chances from the right areas, and wasn’t struggling to get rubber at the net. He just could not buy an ounce of luck over the course of this season.
Those deep purple areas are where the Canadiens were getting many more shots from on the power play with the player in question compared to the team average. The area right in front of the net and the right faceoff circle were red-hot with Pacioretty on the ice. That slot position is where Pacioretty was used for much of the season, where he could redirect pucks or put home rebounds in the slot.
The Canadiens power play was focused entirely on trying to feed the puck to Shea Weber at the beginning of the year, and when he went down with an injury it shifted to feeding the puck to Alex Galchenyuk at the right-side dot. It’s not that this is an issue given the power-play prowess of both players, it just made the man advantage one-dimensional and predictable, and placed the perennial 30-goal-scorer in a secondary role that didn’t take advantage of his potent shot.
There were a lot of bad things happening in Montreal this year, between injuries and bad luck, but nothing struggled quite like the Canadiens’ penalty kill. Pacioretty is of course a staple on said penalty kill, registering the third-most minutes among forwards on the season behind Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron. In that same vein, Pacioretty was second-best in shot attempts against per 60 minutes among forwards to play at least 50 minutes on the man disadvantage, just behind Plekanec, and was third in goals against per 60.
There are still downsides to all of this, primarily that the Canadiens’ penalty kill was still the second-worst in the league, and that with Pacioretty on the ice his goalies posted a save percentage of just 84.5%.
While that chart above is less than ideal, it’s apparent that Max Pacioretty wasn’t a contributor to the Canadiens’ penalty killing woes this season. That can be more attributed to the defence and the overall structure itself.
That also led to a decrease in Pacioretty’s chances while short-handed, partially due to the puck ending up in his own net so often, and partially due the back end being unable to do much more than just dump the puck off the glass, as opposed to leading stretch passes to Pacioretty or any other forward.
The special teams performances are a microcosm of arguably the hardest season of Pacioretty’s professional career. He did many things right, and was involved in the offence, but he could not buy himself a goal to save his life. A low shooting percentage, coupled with losing defenders who started breakout plays in previous seasons, combined to create a disappointing season for the Habs captain.
But there’s no reason to believe last year was anything but an outlier for Pacioretty. Put in better situations to take advantage of his offensive talents should see a return to the form we’ve come to expect.
Whether or not that rebound happens in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, however, remains to be seen.