Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St-Louis has been looking for someone to complete his top line for 50 games now, and even he’s surprised he may have found the solution.
Since putting Kirby Dach on the top line, the combination formed with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki has been undeniably dominant on the ice. Dach, traditionally a centre in the NHL, is being used at right wing and has found instant chemistry with the club’s two best offensive players almost instantly.
Prior to Dach joining the top line, the combination of Suzuki and Caufield had seen sustainable scoring, but left a lot to be desired defensively. Thanks to Dach’s training as a centre in the NHL, the top line has continued to produce offensively in all situations, but has significantly shored up their play away from the puck. Since Dach joined their line, Caufield and Suzuki went from a combined 5.79 expected goals against (xGA) to an impressive 1.86, showing how Dach has helped the top line sustain offence without sacrificing the defensive side of the game.
Even Martin St-Louis didn’t see it clicking this well this quickly.
“I’m a little surprised, yes. He’s a centreman at base, but he’s played some wing. He complements the other two (Caufield and Suzuki) really well and we’ll continue to evaluate it day by day, “said St-Louis on Dach’s impressive performance on the top line. “I’m happy for Kirby. He feels comfortable in his game right now; a lot of positives going for him. We’ll continue to build with him.”
Before Dach’s inclusion on the top line, Suzuki and Caufield had great offensive numbers, but questionable underlying numbers; leading many to believe their offensive success was unsustainable.
The Montreal Canadiens’ dynamic duo posted a combined expected goals differential (xGF%) of 35.29%, showing that their defensive woes far outweighed their offensive success. Since Dach’s inclusion, their expected goals differential has shot up to a very respectable 53.07% without sacrificing much of their offensive numbers; showing that their success on the ice is now far more sustainable, as they’re out chancing their opponents while on the ice; and doing so in a quantifiably sustainable fashion.
Kirby Dach with the perfect feed to Cole Caufield and that's Caufield's 8th of the year! pic.twitter.com/8w0PthaLcH
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 5, 2022
This total shift in numbers has a lot to do with the sustained offensive play this trio is providing to the team; as they’re seemingly always making the right play in the offensive zone and creating high-quality scoring chances almost every shift. They’ve quickly become one of the more potent lines in the NHL, which is a rare feat for the Montreal Canadiens over the last couple of seasons.
For St-Louis, a lot of that has to do with Dach’s ability to read the play and quickly make the best possible decision with the puck.
“I think Kirby has some great touches and he’s a good playmaker. He can help advance the play and get the puck where it needs to be,” said St-Louis on what Dach brings to the top line. “There’s a lot of moments on the ice where you just want to make a play, and there are a lot of plays you can make, but, with Kirby, he has the ability to identify the best possible play to make. Good players are able to determine the best plays to make on the ice, rather than just make a play. It helps Cole and Suzuki to have more space and have continued offensive-zone pressure. Up to date, with that line, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.”
Yeah, keep Kirby Dach on this line please. pic.twitter.com/KbHHUc1O7q
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) November 6, 2022
Quality over quantity is what is driving most of the underlying numbers way up for this trio.
Dach’s high Hockey IQ and his attention to detail on the ice have made him a fine complement to Suzuki and Caufield so far this season. It remains to be seen whether the Montreal Canadiens still view him as the second-line centre of the future, but for the time being, his current stint on the top line will do wonders for his confidence and can possibly help vault him to another level offensively.
- Expected Goals Against (xGA): The combination of actions on the ice that would normally lead to goals being scored by the opposition while a player is on the ice.
- Expected Goals Differential (xGF%): The differential between the ratio of expected goals scored for and against while a given player, or set of players, is on the ice.
(All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)