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An in-depth look at the offence of the Montreal Canadiens’ forwards: The red-hot and the decidedly not

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Through one fifth of the season, the Habs are seeing surprising sources of offence, and some concerning slumps.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With the Montreal Canadiens’ season now 20% complete, the team sits in first place in the NHL standings.

They’ve gotten to that point with offence from all four lines, sitting near the top of the league in goals scored with 56 in 17 games. Their 38 goals against in that time is currently tied for seventh-best, despite giving up 10 of those in a single game in Columbus. The team is averaging better than three goals a game, while giving up just over two, and that’s the recipe that has allowed for their early success.

A significant reason for that top-tier offence is a productive power play, which has rebounded from being one of the league’s worst over the past few seasons to seventh overall with 12 goals for to this point.

But the Habs have also been one of the top clubs at five-on-five, with a shooting percentage of 9.30% percent in that situation, behind just the New York Rangers (13.07%) and the aforementioned Blue Jackets (10.07%).

The question is whether the Habs can maintain their current level of play for the final 80% of the season and beyond. To answer part of that question, we’ll look at the personal performances of the forwards at five-on-five to see where the offence is and isn’t coming from.

Actual versus expected production

To evaluate the forwards from an offensive perspective, we can use a relatively new metric of player contibution that calculates the expected offence based on the danger of their shots, and compare that to their actual offensive totals.

For that, we can use Emmanuel Perry’s expected shooting percentage, found on Corsica, at five-on-five. This metric breaks shots down in categories based on type of release, location, and other factors (outlined in the linked article), which have all been evaluated for their probability of resulting in a goal. A deflection in the slot is more dangerous than a wrist shot from the blue line, and that is reflected in the stat.

By averaging the danger of all shots taken (minus blocked shots, as the NHL’s shot location data is incorrect for those), an expected shooting percentage can be obtained, and each time a total of 100% is reached (e.g. five shots of 20% likelihood of going in, 10 shots of 10%, etc.) that can be counted as an expected goal.

For reference, the following table shows the cutoff value for a top-six forward — the 180th-ranked player, with six forwards on 30 teams — in each of the categories that will be used.

TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 12.2 2 2.02 0.65 0.70 6.52 7.48

Glossary: TOI/GP = player’s 5v5 ice time per game played | G = individual goals | ixG = individual expected goals (a product of number of unblocked shots and expected conversion rate of those shots) | G/60 = individual goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time | ixG/60 = individual expected goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time | iFSh% = individual Fenwick (unblocked shots) shooting percentage | ixFSh% = individual expected Fenwick shooting percentage (an average of the danger of shots taken)

With those measures to work with, we can see the players who are scoring at normal rates, those who are probably due to break out, and those who are about to come back down to Earth.

The overachievers

Torrey Mitchell
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 10.1 3 0.96 1.05 0.34 27.27 8.74
Rank 13th T-4th T-12th 4th 13th 1st 5th

Torrey Mitchell has been part of the band of fourth-liners moonlighting as first-liners through the first 17 games, but has been converting on over 27% of the shots he sends on goal. Despite having three five-on-five goals, his offensive performance suggests that he’d be expected to have just one based on the chances he has had so far.

He is still last among the 13 forwards meeting the minimum of 50 minutes played for inclusion in the analysis, meaning that the coaching staff is still deploying him like a bottom-three forward, and that’s about where he should be according to his offensive indicators.

Paul Byron
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 11.0 5 2.26 1.61 0.73 26.32 11.88
Rank 9th T-1st 9th T-1st 7th 2nd 1st

Like Mitchell, Byron is operating with an unsustainable shooting percentage, currently celebrating a goal after about every four shots. Unlike Mitchell, the looks he’s getting are very dangerous, and that’s largely because of his speed creating odd-man rushes and breakaways. He’s not going to keep up this pace, but he was so effective that he was expected to score on almost 12% of his shots in the first fifth of the season.

For Byron, he has earned a lot of the success he has enjoyed thus far, and has been the best Canadiens forwards in terms of shot/chance quality. That hasn’t been coupled with a large volume of shots, which is why his expected goal value is low relative to his expected shooting percentage. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Byron, it’s that he doesn’t need much of an opening to explode for some timely offence.

Phillip Danault
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 11.0 5 2.43 1.61 0.78 17.24 8.39
Rank 10th T-1st 5th T-1st 5th 3rd 6th

Some wondered if Danault would be able to take on the third-line centre role that was left vacant by the draft-dray trade of Lars Eller. He’s answered that concern and more, seeing a steady climb up the lineup to play with more offensively gifted linemates. He’s performing like a top-six player by both expected and actual metrics, while only getting the ice time of a bottom-trio forward to this point.

As is the case with the rest of the players in this section, the pace won’t last, but all signs point to Danault being a legitimate offensive threat, and a realistic option to centre a scoring line.

David Desharnais
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 11.3 3 1.65 1.00 0.55 16.67 9.18
Rank 8th T-4th 10th 5th 11th 4th 2nd

David Desharnais currently sports the second-best shooting percentage of the forward corps, behind Byron, but has the third-lowest expected goals per 60 minutes because he simply doesn’t shoot the puck. On the rare occasion he does decide to try to find the back of the net rather than a teammate’s stick, it often ends up being a goal.

He has been producing like a top-six goal-scorer so far, but you can expect his goal totals to stay relatively static with his current style of play.

Alex Galchenyuk
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 12.7 4 2.30 1.11 0.64 11.43 6.57
Rank 3rd T-3rd 7th 3rd 10th 5th 11th

He’s been getting the even-strength ice time of a top-line forward, and scoring like one, but Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t exactly been playing to his ability so far. His shots haven’t been particularly dangerous, and he’s not compensating for that lack of quality by getting a large volume of low-danger shots, either.

His expected stats make him look more like a fourth-liner than the team’s top centre, and that is a bit strange for a player who scored at will in the final quarter of the previous season, with an expected rate of almost one goal per 60 minutes even with a lengthy slump to begin the season. He’s still been a top contributor to the team, but will need to elevate his play to keep that up.

Getting their due

Max Pacioretty
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 13.2 3 2.93 0.80 0.79 4.69 4.58
Rank 1st T-4th 2nd 9th 4th 9th 13th

The Habs’ perennial top scorer has been off to a slow start by his standards, and that’s largely due to the low quality of the shots he’s taken so far. There are several possible reasons for that, including playing with a rotating cast of linemates who don’t know each others’ tendencies, or simply not being set up in a way that he can easily get his shot off.

One explanation could be his nature as a “perimeter player” who plays more on the fringes of the slot and relies on his shot to beat opposing netminders rather than in-tight positioning. With an expected shooting percentage of a team-low 4.58%, it’s hard to argue against that common criticism of the captain, but he has been making up for the lack of quality with a substantial quantity of shots (he leads all forwards with 40 at five-on-five) from the more undefended portions of the ice.

That strategy has him fourth in expected goals per 60 minutes, and that despite having his three goals diluted by his team-high ice team, so he’s still being effective on offence, and in various other aspects of the game.

Daniel Carr
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 10.5 1 1.20 0.81 0.98 6.67 8.01
Rank 11th T-9th 11th 8th 3rd T-6th 7th

He hasn’t been trusted much by Michel Therrien, with one of the lowest average ice times on the team, but Carr has continued to be a great middle-six player in his second NHL campaign. He’s getting some quality chances with his net-driving, puck-hounding style, and ranks in the top three for expected goals per 60 minutes.

He’s proven himself to be an NHL player, and now needs to be given some more responsibilities to show his skills.

Artturi Lehkonen
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 12.1 2 2.67 0.83 1.11 6.67 8.89
Rank 6th 8th 3rd 7th 2nd T-6th 4th

One player who was given a golden opportunity right from the outset was rookie Artturi Lehkonen. He is sixth on the team in five-on-five ice time, and usually placed on a line with quality offensive players.

He still sits in a top-nine position in goals scored, and third in individual expected goals (at 2.67) despite playing just 12 games before being sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

He came to training camp ready to play a significant role in the NHL, and a lot of the credit for that goes to Roger Rönnberg, the head coach of the SHL’s Frölunda HC.

Any day now...

Brendan Gallagher
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 12.1 3 4.60 0.88 1.34 5.88 9.03
Rank 5th T-4th 1st 6th 1st 8th 3rd

Some have mentioned Gallagher as a player who needs to be better for the Canadiens, but the stats show he’s just not being rewarded for his stellar play. He’s only eighth in unblocked shooting percentage, and sixth in goals per 60 minutes, but based on the quality and quantity of shots he’s getting from his net-front role, those values should be a lot higher.

He’s been the Habs’ best forwards in terms of expected goal production, and it’s only a matter of time until the goals start deflecting in off his stick, shin pads, face, or whatever other body part he can throw at the puck.

Andrew Shaw
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 11.9 1 2.61 0.30 0.77 2.86 7.46
Rank 7th T-9th 4th 10th 6th 10th 8th

The $23,400,000 man has just one goal to his name in the first year of a six-year contract, but that’s not from a lack of trying. You could expect him to be a top-six producer in both goals and goals per 60, and fortune should eventually turn in Shaw’s favour.

He has had a few games where he has been one of the best players on the ice for the team, most notably his play in the recent return to the United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks. He has been playing well (albeit a bit undisciplined at times) and will be a key member of the team for the foreseeable future.

Brian Flynn
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 10.1 0 0.96 0.00 0.47 0.00 5.34
Rank 12th T-11th T-12th T-11th 12th T-11th 12th

Brian Flynn finds himself in this section for the sole reason that the only possible direction he can go is up. Had the percentages played out and he’d scored at a rate representative of his play, he still wouldn’t be guaranteed to have a goal this season. He’s not getting any chances, and in fact has just 11 shots total in 12 games.

He’s now been out of the lineup for three games, and it’s tough to see him making his way back in without an injury to any of the available options with the big club, and probably shouldn’t be getting time over even unproven prospects like Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, and the recently recalled Charles Hudon.

Alexander Radulov
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 12.8 0 2.29 0.00 0.67 0.00 6.95
Rank 2nd T-11th 8th T-11th 8th T-11th 10th

If you watched even one period during the Canadiens’ first 16 games, you’ll know that Radulov has been the most engaged player on the ice. Knowing that, his numbers are a bit surprising, but that is mostly because he looks to set up his linemates at every opportunity ... perhaps a bit too much.

Some selfishness from the energetic off-season acquistion would serve him well, and would keep opposition defenders and goaltenders on their toes trying to guess where the puck would end up.

Tomas Plekanec
TOI/GP G ixG G/60 ixG/60 iFSh% ixFSh%
Value 12.6 0 2.31 0.00 0.65 0.00 7.45
Rank 4th T-11th 6th T-11th 9th T-11th 9th

Plekanec has had a tough start to the season offensively, to the point that some are demanding a trade while he still has some value, but he hasn’t been playing quite as poorly as his offensive stats suggest. He has just one goal this season, though is playing like a top-nine player.

For $6 million, that’s not exactly what the team was expecting to get for a two-year contract extension, and he’ll probably start to see Danault overtaking him in ice time as the season progresses if his personal offensive game doesn’t pick up.

On-ice stats

To get more of an idea of who is contributing to the offence overall, and not just scoring goals, on-ice stats provide an overview of the team’s play while a certain player in on the ice, but can’t determine individual play.

The following chart lists a few key statistical categories for team performance, sorted by the on-ice expected Fenwick shooting percentage for each forward.

Player FF% xGF/60 xGA/60 xFSh% xFSv% xPDO
Artturi Lehkonen 41.97 2.56 2.26 7.63 95.13 102.76
Tomas Plekanec 46.98 2.64 2.21 6.72 95.02 101.73
Alex Galchenyuk 50.45 3.08 3.04 6.66 93.30 99.96
Alexander Radulov 50.00 2.60 2.21 6.58 94.39 100.97
Brendan Gallagher 50.91 3.15 3.17 6.47 93.25 99.72
Paul Byron 48.50 2.68 2.89 6.44 93.46 99.89
Torrey Mitchell 43.87 1.95 2.33 6.01 94.39 100.39
Phillip Danault 47.27 2.17 2.37 5.59 94.55 100.13
Daniel Carr 48.28 1.91 2.33 5.59 93.64 99.23
Max Pacioretty 53.31 2.74 2.76 5.54 93.63 99.17
Brian Flynn 45.70 1.86 1.97 5.45 95.13 100.59
David Desharnais 49.40 2.17 2.86 5.30 93.18 98.47
Andrew Shaw 49.48 2.15 2.92 5.04 93.30 98.34

Glossary: FF% = Fenwick-for percentage (rate of unblocked shot attempts in the player’s favour while he’s on the ice) | xGF/60 = expected on-ice goals for per 60 minutes of 5v5 time | xGA/60 = expected on-ice goals against per 60 minutes of 5v5 time | xFSh% = expected on-ice Fenwick shooting percentage (an average of the danger of shots taken) | xFSv% = expected on-ice Fenwick save percentage (the expected save percentage based on the danger of unblocked shots faced) | xPDO = a sum of xFSh% and xFSv% as a measure of overall effectiveness

From the chart you can see that Lehkonen has seen by far the most dangerous offensive chances while he’s on the ice than any other player, while his units are also tied for first in preventing quality shots, making life easier on the goaltender. As a result he has an expected PDO more than a full point better than any other forward. Oddly, his Fenwick-for percentage is incredibly low, but with the other data presented, you’d have to conclude that he’s been on the ice for a few high-danger chances for and a large amount of low-danger chances against.

The impact of Radulov and Plekanec is more apparent by this measure that looks at all contributions, not just individual goal-scoring, offering a good view of how they are still contributing at both ends of the ice.

Desharnais is at the opposite end of the spectrum, suggesting that not only is he not directly contributing to the offence, he’s not helping to set it up, either. Worse still, he has the lowest expected Fenwick save percentage on the team, meaning he’s being outmatched by the opposition in his own zone, allowing dangerous chances while he’s playing.

Shaw’s numbers are interesting. Given that he has fairly good individual indicators, his five-man unit contributions are very low. It’s possible that this is simply the result of him teammates adapting to his style of play and not knowing quite where to be to get a full-team press going. For whatever reason, the chances being generated while he’s on the ice are largely coming from him with little support from his other four teammates.