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Offensive expectations: The Canadiens are beating their projections through the first quarter

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Which players are most responsible for Montreal’s surprising offence after a quarter of the season?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

After the Montreal Canadiens had played 20 games (a sample including games up to Tuesday’s match versus the Ottawa Senators), I compared my pre-season projections to the real numbers being put up by the team. Here’s how things have played out so far.

The team

With a quarter of the season done, how does 2016-17 compare with last year? Their record was 14-4-2 at that point last season. This year they were 14-4-2 once again.

Also around this point last year, Montreal headed out on a trip through the Western Conference, and it ended up being a total rout.

With pre-season porjections based on their full season performance last season and not just the red-hot showing in the first two months, you can see how the team stacks up versus the previous season, and how they are faring in terms of meeting the projections I outlined. As you can see in the table below, those expectations were pretty close to 2015-16’s full-season totals, though with a better shooting percentage.

GP Shots/GP Shots pace Goals-for Pace Sh%
2015-2016 82 30.46 2498 216 8.65%
Expected 82 30.49 2500 225 9.00%
Actual 20 29.20 2394 258 10.79%

The first thing that jumps out is the pace for goal-scoring. The shooting percentage is higher than even the above-average value I set out, with the team converting on 10.79% of their shots. For reference, the league average is 8.86% this year.

That percentage compensates for the lower number of shots they’ve been launching. What does their ower shot total mean? Scoring chances might be a better indicator of the Habs efficiency, but we can say, judging from the shots, that the Habs are not heading in the right direction in terms of improving their offensive output.

The team is enjoying a power play that went from nothing to 23.4% this year, and riding on the unexpected production of bottom-six players.

Marc Bergevin went and got players that would help Michel Therrien with his system. No, he didn’t get Sidney Crosby for David Desharnais or Duncan Keith for Alexei Emelin, but he added a clear top-six forward with Alexander Radulov and a veteran backup goalie. He also got a safety-first top-two defenceman. If I were a coach I would want a general manager like Bergevin that would work to my interests rather than the other way around.

The players

There have been some surprises this seasons, with some deceptions among them. Let’s look at the numbers.

Forwards

PLAYER GP G Pace G Exp. G P Pace P Exp. P iSF iSh%
Max Pacioretty (C) 20 4 16 30 13 53 55 54 7.41
Alex Galchenyuk 20 8 33 25 21 86 60 40 20
Brendan Gallagher (A) 20 4 16 28 10 41 56 54 7.41
Artturi Lehkonen 12 2 14 14 3 21 28 27 7.41
Tomas Plekanec (A) 20 1 4 17 5 21 52 41 2.44
Alexander Radulov 18 4 18 18 17 77 55 32 12.5
Daniel Carr 9 1 9 15 2 18 25 14 7.14
David Desharnais 19 3 13 10 6 26 30 15 20
Andrew Shaw 20 3 12 14 7 29 35 37 8.11
Torrey Mitchell 20 5 21 8 7 29 14 12 41.67
Phillip Danault 20 5 21 5 9 37 12 28 17.86
Paul Byron 20 7 29 7 12 49 12 27 25.93
Sven Andrighetto 4 0 0 13 0 0 25 7 0
Brian Flynn 12 0 0 6 2 14 10 11 0
Charles Hudon 2 0 0 12 1 41 30 2 0

Max Pacioretty is clearly behind the pace in terms of goals, and yet he is very close to the expectation in terms of points. Maybe he hasn’t scored as much, but his contribution is still not negligible. He and Brendan Gallagher have a decent shooting percentage, but the problem is more that shot generation is too low.

Artturi Lehkonen was adjusting well to the NHL before being sidelined with an injury. He doesn’t have a sample size even as large as the limited sample most others have had, but still showed great things despite a more defensive deployment with Tomas Plekanec.

Speaking of the veteran Czech, he is having a rough year this season that can’t be attributed only to his defensive responsibility. He has a very low shooting percentage that might be explained by two things: luck, or low-quality scoring chances. I would lean more toward the latter.

The story of this season is the Paul Byron - Alex Galchenyuk - Radulov trio. Except for Radulov, the others have benefited from an unsustainable shooting percentage. They are, however, generating dangerous scoring chances, and taking advantage of them. It would be nice to see them boost their shot totals, though, not just looking for the perfect play.

Byron’s deployment on the first line was unexpected. His production exceeds that of a stats-defined first-liner this season, so let’s see how long it will last.

Defencemen

PLAYER GP G Pace G Exp. G P Pace P Exp. P iSF iSh%
Nathan Beaulieu 20 1 4 5 6 25 30 23 4.35
Shea Weber (A) 20 8 33 10 17 70 40 52 15.38
Andrei Markov (A) 20 2 8 7 17 70 40 29 6.9
Jeff Petry 19 3 13 7 9 39 36 36 8.33
Alexei Emelin 20 1 4 3 4 16 10 19 5.26
Greg Pateryn 13 1 6 5 3 19 16 13 7.69
Joel Hanley 5 0 0 2 0 0 12 3 0

The major surprise came from the defensive corps. Last year that area was clearly deficient, with little help coming from the back end. This year, we’ve seen a good contribution from the blue line.

At the top of it comes Shea Weber. I clearly underestimated his success. I’m not sure of the Muller effect on the revamped power play, but I can clearly see Weber’s impact. It’s almost as if we’re watching the Hulk; his only answer is brute strength. Weber’s answer is his booming shot.

And what to say of The General? He is generating shots like never before. His separation from Subban hasn’t seemed to affect him too much. He is now playing on the second pairing with less responsibility, and thriving.

Conclusion

Despite their record (now 15-4-2) some fans are still unhappy with their play, and some vent their doubts by criticizing the players. Most of them are having good numbers in terms of goals and points. As it currently stands, all the top scorers with five or more goals have a shooting percentage greater than 15%. Except for Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, not many players are left who haven’t been playing at or above their highest level.

Basically, if they all — or just some of them — regress at the same time we’re in big trouble. To elude the fans doubt and erase last year’s trauma, they should start to increase their shot generation, while not giving up on on their desire for high-danger scoring chances, and control the five-on-five game.

Who are your surprises and which player is going to be first to regress?