Cole Caufield had his best game in a Montreal Canadiens uniform last night. He finished the night with the second-highest expected-goals-for (98.2%), scoring-chances-for (91.7%), and shot-attempts-for percentages (85.7%), trailing only linemate Artturi Lehkonen in all three. The puck didn’t go in for him, but it definitely will soon if he continues to play like this.
This performance was not only memorable because of Caufield’s multiple scoring chances, but also because it quieted some doubts about his ability to fit in the team’s offensive structure this season without the benefit of a training camp to teach his style of play to his teammates. It turns out Caufield can adapt on the fly. He can fit in the structure, but also stretch it to his liking. He can alternate between following the guidelines and finding his own routes, between expected positioning and creativity.
He was quite successful at both types of offence against the Winnipeg Jets. He even had successive shifts in the second frame where he fully commanded the Habs’ attack. One of his multiple drives into space ultimately led to Artturi Lehkonen’s goal, which brought the team to within one goal.
They were so many interesting elements to analyze in those shifts that I decided to present them in video form. The clips below all have freeze-frames and text inserts. They break down Caufield’s offensive-zone play and more specifically his adaptation to the Habs’ offensive system.
They feature the themes we have come to associate with the scorer: finding open ice, offensive timing, playing between checks, sneaking past opponents, and attacking outside-in. But there are also some different net-front abilities that we didn’t see from Caufield in college.
More than once, the winger won inside positioning on defenders near the cage. He spun around their body and moved in front of them in a low, stable stance, cutting their recovery path and positioning himself to make a play on the puck as it came to the net. When he couldn’t get inside position, Caufield instead shoved opponents away, toward their goalie, to create a pocket of space. That, or he stopped short of net-front defenders, standing at the post as a tip option for teammates.
The line Caufield formed with Jake Evans and Lehkonen dominated the Jets all night. They also received the lowest ice time at five-on-five, and could see their usage in future games increase if they continue to play at this level. A confident Caufield, propped up by two energetic drivers on both sides of the puck, could really help Montreal find some precious goals in this last stretch of the season.