Where will the goals come from without Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk?
The Canadiens traded away two of their top goal-scorers in the off-season, but there are some young players who are proving capable of more offence.
The 2017-18 Montreal Canadiens scored 207 goals, good for 29th in the NHL and almost 100 goals behind the league-leading 290 posted by the Tampa Bay Lightning. At five-on-five, the Habs were even worse, lighting the lamp more often than only the Buffalo Sabres.
As the last season started, two members of the Canadiens’ active roster had produced 30 or more goals in a season: Alex Galchenyuk (2015-16) and Max Pacioretty (2011-12, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16, 16-17). Now, both have been shipped off to warmer climes after substandard seasons, and if not for Brendan Gallagher’s superlative 31-goal campaign, the Canadiens would have entered the 2018-19 season without a single 30-goal-scorer on their roster.
Despite being well below their career best levels, Galchenyuk and Pacioretty still combined for 36 goals last season, or almost 20% of the Canadiens total offensive output.
Although the 2018-19 season is widely believed to be a lost one, both the fans and the Canadiens’ coaching staff will still be keenly observing the roster to see who can replace the desert-bound goal production.
Can L’Arttiste paint a masterpiece?
Our first candidate is Artturi Lehkonen, who showed off his scoring pedigree with an 18-goal rookie campaign in his rookie season. As so many others have experienced, the sophomore season didn’t quite go as planned, as Lehkonen slumped to 12 goals in an injury-marred year.
That said, the Finnish winger’s scoring woes were not due to a lack of effort. At even strength, Lehkonen flung the same amount of rubber at the net as he did during his rookie season, saw the same number of them force the goalie into action, and improved his individual scoring-chance production.
It wasn’t as if Lehkonen wasn’t getting into prime scoring areas either, as his ridiculous shot map would attest:
But the hockey gods can be cruel, and while they smiled upon 21-year-old Artturi and blessed him with more goals than his expected goals for (ixGF) of 15.73, 22-year-old Artturi was cursed to enjoy none of the fruits of his 18.57 ixGF.
The 2018-19 season therefore represents not so much a redemption campaign for the 23-year-old Finn, but a chance to break out. As long as Lehkonen keeps doing what made him successful in the first place, a combination of regression to the mean and increased opportunities in the absence of Galchenyuk and Pacioretty should see him leap past the 12 goals of last season and even the 18 of two years ago. In particular, with the Habs’ off-season moves, Lehkonen is probably now the best forward candidate to receive power-play one-timers.
Charles Hudon is ready to take another step forward
If you look up “snakebitten” in the dictionary, there’s a fair chance that Charles Hudon’s October will appear next to the entry. Despite launching 57 pucks at the net and generating 24 scoring chances by himself (11 of the high-danger variety), Hudon managed a meagre two goals during the month of October — though the first one was one heck of a doozy:
Hudon’s luck would even out a little bit through the rest of the season, but the Canadiens forward still finished with a 5.6% shooting percentage en route to a 10-goal campaign. Unsurprisingly, Hudon was another player who deserved better puck luck than he received, posting an ixGF of 14.83.
Like Lehkonen, Hudon was no stranger to the front of the net and slot area, which means that if he continues to do what he does, regression the mean, combined with more stable line combinations and more power-play time should see him easily eclipse 10 goals, and possibly 15 or 20.
Will Nikita Scherbak burn brightly or flame out?
When the Canadiens drafted Scherbak in 2014, we were thrilled that a player with such a diverse and versatile offensive portfolio had fallen all the way to 26th. Scherbak’s development has not been the smoothest, but the Moscow native finally showed flashes of being ready to contribute offensively at the NHL level last season. However, injuries made it difficult for him to find any sort of rhythm with the Canadiens, so he remains much of an unknown quantity entering 2018-19.
Despite only suiting up in 26 games for the Habs, Scherbak managed to notch four goals last season, making it quite likely that he would have been able to hit double digits had he remained healthy. While his underlying metrics left much to be desired, it needs to be noted that Scherbak also spent much more time on the fourth line with significantly inferior teammates than Hudon or Lehkonen.
Scherbak needs to do a better job of getting into good scoring areas more consistently, but given a full campaign and consistent linemates, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t become another double-digit scorer on a Habs roster that’s starting to nurture scoring depth throughout the top nine.
Brendan Gallagher can do even better
Brendan Gallagher was a bright spot — some would say the only bright spot — in a very dark 2017-18 season. The right-winger helped fill the hole left by Alexander Radulov’s departure, contributing a team-leading 31 goals and 54 points. Amazingly, despite these breakout numbers, Gallagher was actually on the wrong side of puck luck last season, putting up an all-situations ixGF of 36.6.
Gallagher not only led the team in individual scoring-chance generation, he was a full three chances per 60 minutes better than the second-ranked player (Lehkonen). Likewise, he averaged nearly 2.5 more high-danger chances per 60 minutes than second-ranked Daniel Carr and third-ranked Paul Byron.
While Gallagher has a well-deserved reputation as a net-crasher and pad-whacker, the Canadiens’ top winger (much like Brad Marchand, the player he is forever compared with) has considerable diversity in his offensive game. Gallagher’s breakout last season was fueled in part by an increased tendency to go to the slot rather than the crease, and recovering the ability to use a very underrated shot rather than just hope to jam pucks in under and through legs.
Making up for the ex-captain will be a team effort
Despite the slings and arrows hurled at him, replacing the likes of Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk is not something that most players are capable of doing by themselves. Fortunately, the Canadiens find themselves with a host of players capable of more offensive production than they delivered last season, and will have to rely on that scoring by committee to give their fans something to cheer about in a season absent high expectations.