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Key Lineup Changes By St-Louis Paying Off For Canadiens

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Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St-Louis

Every time we’ve checked in on the overperforming and underwhelming members of the Montreal Canadiens, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield inevitably lead the headlines.

This week they’re definitely worth mentioning, seeing as they once again led the Canadiens in scoring.

Suzuki had a goal and three assists, whereas Caufield scored twice and added an assist of his own.

And while consistent production from the top line is par for the course, Martin St-Louis has struggled to find a semi-regular source of secondary scoring.

Even tertiary scoring has been hard to come by.

Players such as Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, Josh Anderson and Sean Monahan have taken turns scoring sporadic goals, but when they did finally find the back of the net there was a red flag when examining their underlying numbers.

In recent games, St-Louis seems to have found the ideal combinations of chemistry, or at the very least, the best we’ve seen at this point in the season.

Middle Six

Most Canadiens fans would agree Brendan Gallagher has not hit the scoresheet as often as he deserves through the first 18 games of the year.

But now that he’s found some rhythm alongside Christian Dvorak and Mike Hoffman, the production should increase.

Together, the line is nearing 60 percent control in shots, scoring chances and expected goals, and have outscored their opponents 5:1 at 5v5.

Their production is outpacing their process, which points to a slight regression in scoring, but overall they’ve still managed to stay on the right side of 50 percent in every important statistical category.

Next Step

When Josh Anderson was suspended two games for boarding Alex Pietrangelo, his outlook did not look very bright. He was struggling to find chemistry alongside the many linemates he was assigned and was visibly frustrated with his overall level of play.

But upon his return to the lineup, Anderson enjoyed an immediate and sustainable uptick in performance that coincided with a lineup shuffle that saw him placed on a line with Evgenii Dadonov and Sean Monahan.

Together, the trio has controlled over 60 percent of the shots, 60 percent of the scoring chances, 80 percent of the high-danger chances, and 70 percent of the expected goals.

In other words, despite the small sample size, they’ve been excellent, and their production is showing early signs of being sustainable.

Can’t Win’em All

No NHL coach will ever be satisfied with their lineup, and though St-Louis does seem to have found a healthy balance in this top 9, his fourth line has been a complete disaster since the start of the very first game.

We won’t go over the numbers, because they’re the analytical equivalent of identifying a dead body at the morgue, but suffice it to say the constantly rotating cast of wingers playing with Jake Evans has struggled to control the play.

And while chemistry has been hard to come by, it’s challenging to ignore Evans’ lack of production.

He receives very difficult assignments, and you can’t expect very much offence given the role he plays on the team, but you would like to see a few more points on his stats sheet at this point of the year.

Let It Ride

To give you an idea of the impact made by St-Louis’ lineup changes, we simply need to take a look at the massive shift in high-danger scoring chances.

Before the shuffle, the Canadiens had controlled over half goals in their games throughout the season, but they were depending on a lot of shooting luck and solid goaltending to get the job done.

They controlled fewer than 40 percent of the high-danger chances, one of the worst results of the league, and consequently had an expected goal for (xGF%) of 45.5 percent.

Since Anderson has returned from suspension, the Canadiens have controlled almost 55 percent of the quality scoring chances, good for 9th overall in the league during that time frame.

Most encouragingly, their expected goals-for in the last six games is a surprising 51.5 percent.

Unfortunately, Hoffman’s recent injury will pour some cold water on the momentum they’ve built, but it will offer first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky an opportunity to finally play in a role that’s conducive to producing at a semi-regular rate.

The changes made by St-Louis have resulted in a much more offence-orientated team, one that doesn’t particularly enjoy spending time in its zone and offers an exciting brand of firewagon hockey to its fans.


(Statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)

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