MONTREAL– The quest to find the ideal linemate for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield continues, with Sean Monahan being placed on the line as the latest potential candidate.
That’s not to say the duo has underperformed offensively in the first three games of the season.
In fact, the pair has been involved in every single goal the Canadiens have scored this season, except for one, which happened to be scored by Monahan.
But a quick look at their underlying numbers reveals their current scoring pace is not sustainable, at least not long term.
While playing with Josh Anderson, the Caufield and Suzuki controlled just 38 percent of the shots, an alarming number given they represent the Canadiens’ best hope for an offensively dominant line.
They also struggled when it came to mitigating high-danger scoring chances, generating just two of their own while allowing their opponents 10, resulting in a paltry 16 percent control of the quality chances during their shifts.
Predictably, their expected goal share (xGF%) sits at an underwhelming 25 percent.
Simply put, despite the production, the line was getting outplayed in almost every situation. It was likely their raw talent that led to goals rather than an excess of chemistry.
By removing Anderson from the equation and adding Monahan in his stead, the Canadiens are investing in their future, in more ways than one.
The first and most important aspect of the change is what it can do to the top line. No NHL team can compete with their two best offensive weapons being outshot on a nightly basis.
If the goal is to push Suzuki and Caufield into the pantheon of elite NHL players, they need to score goals and control the majority of the play while they’re on the ice.
Monahan has shown he can drive the play up the ice with control, thus making him an excellent player in transition, but he’s also quite skilled at the faceoff dot, which should help Suzuki when it comes to the line’s defensive assignments.
Not to mention, Monahan possesses the type of playmaking that Anderson simply couldn’t provide, which should make the line a little more difficult to oppose.
“We have to lock it down,” said Monahan. “We have to play smart with the puck, hold onto the puck, play a possession game.”
As it stands, opponents are well aware Suzuki is the lone playmaker on the line, which makes game-planning against the Canadiens rather easy.
Shut down Suzuki and you shut down the line.
There’s also the matter of Monahan’s expiring contract. Kent Hughes, who received a first-round pick to acquire Monahan in the first place, may be eyeing a trade deadline move.
The longer Monahan spends showcasing on the Canadiens’ top line, the higher his overall deadline value is likely to become. At the very least, even if the line continues to produce but fails to improve its underlying numbers, Monahan’s value should increase.
It’s also important to remember that Sean Monahan’s cap hit of $6.375 million per season would just be a fraction of its original cost at the deadline, which should lead to a few more bites on Hughes’ trade line and, ideally, a few more picks in the Draft cupboard.
(Statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)