It’s going to sound a bit like a broken record, but it was awful luck that played a major factor in forcing head coach Claude Julien to split up a pair of wingers who appeared to be thriving. The duo of Charles Hudon and Artturi Lehkonen were kept together for less than 100 total minutes at five-on-five, and in that time their immediate shot metrics were very good.
The young wingers were put on a line with the veteran Tomas Plekanec in the pre-season, and even while the team struggled, the line shone bright on any given night. Going into the season having that trio together gave the Montreal Canadiens a potent line to play anywhere in their top nine, in nearly any situation. Yet after just a short period of time, they were shifted to other lines, and wouldn’t feature on the same line regularly for the remainder of the year.
So why exactly was a line that by all accounts was doing well broken up? Well, as was the story of the Habs to start the season, they could not buy a goal to save their lives. In their 82 five-on-five minutes, they allowed five goals while scoring just one themselves, which is less than ideal for a team that needed goals from anyone at that point.
Leading to those numbers were an on-ice save percentage of 86.5%, and a PDO of 0.885. That means with both Lehkonen and Hudon on the ice together, the Habs goalies posted a save percentage that would look mediocre in the 1980s, with absolutely zero luck going their way.
It’s wasn’t as though that tandem is poor defensively either.
The first part that stands out on their shots against chart is how many similarities it shares with Lehkonen’s penalty killing chart that we looked at in a prior article.
Lehkonen being on the ice eliminates the one-timer possibility in the faceoff circle, while he and Hudon did well to eliminate shots against from the point. Not only did they keep the shots from the point low, they forced the chances to the walls and did not surrender a large amount of high-danger chances (10 in total).
Whether due to lapses in judgment from the blue-liners in the defensive zone (a regular trend) or just sub-par goaltending, the young duo suffered a bit through no fault of their own.
In the offensive zone, it was hard to find a better tandem on offence on the Canadiens’ roster, but finding a goal was akin to rocket science for this team. In spite of that, the Finn and French-Canadian wingers combined for a Corsi-for percentage of 55.6%, which is bordering on an elite-level number in a small sample. Not only were they generating more shots than they gave up, but they piled up scoring chances (58.9 SCF%) and high-danger chances (62.96 HDCF%).
Their heatmap tells a similar story, with a heavy dose of chances coming directly in front of the opponent’s net, and another major hot spot stretching from the faceoff circle into the slot. Those are the areas teams want chances coming from, and both Hudon and Lehkonen thrive in the dirty areas despite being highly skilled players overall.
They were only able to score one goal despite piling up positive shot metrics. The duo shot a combined 2.04% over the course of their time together, which is far beyond a qualification of just unlucky.
With Plekanec’s future in the air, the Canadiens are thin on centres, but they have one that could mesh well with Lehkonen. That of course is Jonathan Drouin, who shuffled from line to line all of last year.
Lehkonen’s strengths are where Drouin’s weaknesses are and vice versa. Uniting this duo together could be a good way to kickstart Lehkonen’s offensive game and make sure Drouin doesn’t stumble out of the block. Adding in Hudon who is a shot-generating machine regardless of which line he is on wouldn’t be the worst idea for Claude Julien.
They weren’t together long, but the combination of Lehkonen and Hudon made a major impact that was undone by almost ungodly bad luck. Reuniting them to insulate any of the centres in Montreal seems like a no-brainer going forward. Bad luck won’t last forever, and the Habs goalies won’t post sub-.900 save percentages either, so it might be time to reunite two of the Habs’ best young stars when the new season begins.