When Jeff Skinner, who is yet to qualify for the playoffs in his 13-year NHL career, taunted the Montreal Canadiens bench on Tuesday night, it may have felt a little forced given the Sabres were coming off an 8-game losing streak.
After all, the Canadiens are in the midst of a full rebuild, and yet they’re several points ahead of the Sabres, who are trying to finally take the first step toward legitimacy this season.
But regardless of the Toronto native’s empty playoff stats sheet, it’s fair to point out the 30-year-old winger has enjoyed a decent amount of success against the Canadiens.
With 23 goals and 17 assists in 37 games, Skinner produces 1.08 points per game against the Canadiens, whereas his regular season scoring pace against the rest of the league is just 0.62 points per game.
It’s an astonishing uptick in performance and may explain why Skinner was so excited to score a throwaway goal on the powerplay in the dying minutes of Buffalo’s 7-2 drubbing of the Canadiens. In a lot of ways, playing against Montreal during the regular season is his Stanley Cup.
But he’s far from the only player who enjoys playing against the Canadiens. There’s a laundry list of players that elevate their overall level of play. As the numbers reveal, star players tend to do best.
You could argue Crosby plays incredibly well against every team in the NHL, and you’d be right, but he definitely saves some of his best hockey for when he faces the Canadiens.
With 21 goals and 37 assists in 45 games, Crosby’s 1.29 points per game place him in first among active players.
16 of those goals have come at even strength, and even more impressively, five of them came in the form of game-winning goals.
Facing Kaiden Guhle has been a challenge for Crosby, seeing as he was kept off the scoresheet both times he faced the rookie defenceman this year, but even with two goose eggs on the scoresheet, Crosby’s scoring rate against the Canadiens is difficult to ignore.
Incidentally, if we had included retired players in the top 5, Scott Gomez would have ended up tied with Crosby in terms of points per game thanks to his 5 goals and 22 assists in 21 games.
Other than when he plays the Sabres, Malkin tends to enjoy beating up on the Canadiens more than any other team in the league.
Malkin has scored 20 goals and added 36 assists in 45 games, resulting in 1.24 points per game pace, good for second overall among active players.
He’s also scored a shorthanded goal against the Canadiens, which is fairly astonishing given Malkin is not exactly known for being a defensive wizard.
The moral of the story? If you’re an elite forward playing for the Penguins, you circle every game against the Canadiens as an opportunity to pad the stats.
Much like Skinner, Matthews’ success against the Canadiens is limited to the regular season.
He scores on almost 20 percent of his shots when facing Montreal, which has led to an impressive stat line of 22 goals and 12 assists in just 28 games, good for third among active players.
What’s more, 17 of his 22 goals have come at even strength, which means he’s not just taking advantage of the power play to inflict damage.
Any way you cut it, Matthews will be a thorn in the Canadiens’ side for the foreseeable future.
The best player in the NHL is fourth on the points-per-game list, but we’re going to skip over the third-overall player.
It’s not that Patrik Laine’s 8 goals and 4 assists in 12 games are unimpressive, but rather the sample size is still quite volatile due to the low number of games. A goose egg in his next game would lead to Laine falling off the top 10 list entirely.
With 25 points in 21 games against the Canadiens, McDavid actually scores less in those games than he does against most other teams, but he still ranks among the best players when facing the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
Not to mention, his goals tend to be the basis of every single highlight reel.
Ovechkin is actually 11th when it comes to points per game, with 1.13, but we’d be remiss if we ignored how often he’s found the back of the net.
No other player, active or retired, has scored more goals against the Canadiens.
With 34 goals in 53 games, Ovechkin doesn’t just increase his scoring rate, he terrorizes the Canadiens on the power play with 11 man-advantage markers, the most among all players in the league.
The team knows where he’ll be and what he’s planning to do, but as fans around the league know well by now, it’s very difficult to stop the best goal-scorer in NHL history, even if anticipation is on your side.
(Statistics are all-situations unless otherwise noted, via NHL.com)