Tomas Tatar. Brendan Gallagher. Phillip Danault. Max Domi.
Zero goals. Three wins.
Nobody would have thought that the Montreal Canadiens would move on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with no offensive contribution from their top line or their leading scorer from a year ago entering their qualifier against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The numbers show that it will only be a matter of time until some of those players break out offensively. No player had more individual shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, or high danger scoring chances than Gallagher, who could have had a few goals in Friday’s Game 4 alone.
Using just the shots and chances that Gallagher had on his own, he had an individual expected goals accumulation of 1.09 at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. There are questions about his health, but he will now get a few days off. Whatever ailed him, he showed no evidence of slowing down, as Game 4 was his best of the series.
Gallagher and Tatar have been more unlocked offensively since Phillip Danault was swapped with Nick Suzuki, no longer putting the wingers on the go-to shutdown line for Claude Julien. Ironically, since Danault was paired with Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron, they have provided more offence as well.
There are no better players on the Canadiens at turning defence into offence than Byron and Lehkonen. Danault can thrive in that aspect as well and be the high forward in the offensive zone. He didn’t factor into either of the goals on Friday, but he was on the ice for both, and that’s no coincidence.
Max Domi also has more to offer, and his position is a tricky one. No matter how you look at the Canadiens’ lineup, they have 10 top-nine forwards. That leaves one to go on the fourth line by default. If you consider the six forwards on the top two lines locks, there’s no room there. That leaves Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jonathan Drouin, and Joel Armia. You can make the argument that Domi has more potential offence than any of them.
The instinct may be to flip Domi with Kotkaniemi, but doing that opens you up for matchup trouble, especially entering a new series without last change. Swapping Domi and Drouin leaves the latter in the position Domi is currently in, but without the benefit of having a centre for the fourth line. Armia is the one who plays the most gritty style of the four, but swapping him and Domi leaves that third line without someone who can fight for pucks. The best thing may be to sneak Domi some shifts after penalty kills — which hasn’t been uncommon in his tenure — to try to give him more opportunities offensively.
There is more potential to unlock, and even if the Philadelphia Flyers start to focus more on the young players that the Penguins ignored, they should be able to compensate with their key offensive players getting more production. If the Qualifiers have shown anything to date, it’s that your team is only as strong as your weakest link, and a lack of offensive production from their top players should not be the Canadiens’.