Top Line Dach
One of the most interesting events for the Montreal Canadiens this season has been Kirby Dach’s immediate and crucial impact on the top line.
Martin St-Louis was swiftly reminded of the important role Dach plays alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield in Saturday night’s 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Bell Centre.
Given Sean Monahan’s injury and the lack of centres in the lineup, it’s hard to fault Martin St-Louis for shuffling his lineup, but the results were quite predictable.
While Josh Anderson filled in for Dach on the first line, the trio only managed to control a little more than 20 percent of the shots and 10 percent of the high-danger chances, resulting in a shameful seven percent expected goals for (xGF%).
The moment Dach was returned to his rightful place, the Canadiens’ top line enjoyed sustained pressure in the offensive zone and an uptick in scoring chances.
With Dach on the line, Suzuki and Caufield controlled over 50 percent of the shots and finished with an encouraging 57 percent xGF.
If you check the season totals, the same phenomenon occurs. When Anderson is on the top line they get blown out of the water, whereas Dach is the stabilizing force that allows them to produce points while also working toward sustainability.
Tyler Myers loses the puck off a Cole Caufield hit and Kirby Dach buries his second of the game! pic.twitter.com/VBKBskSZHs
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 10, 2022
The Canadiens may want to use Dach as a centre in the future, but for the time being, he belongs on the top line regardless of the injuries throughout the roster.
The Shooting Conundrum
A lot has been written about Nick Suzuki’s elevated shooting percentage, and rightfully so.
He’s scoring on every fourth shot he takes, and is well on his way to establishing a new career-high in goals, with a 43-goal pro-rated pace.
Suzuki does a great job picking his shot on the power play, focusing on high-danger opportunities rather than a plethora of low-quality chances, and that has certainly helped keep his shooting percentage over 30 percent while on the man advantage.
Nick Suzuki with a missile on the power play makes it 1-0 Habs! pic.twitter.com/BeiPWCMiCu
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 4, 2022
But all good things must come to an end, and that includes his elevated shooting percentage.
The good news is the Canadiens, as a team, do not have an inflated shooting percentage, which means if Suzuki hits a cold streak, players like Joel Armia, Jake Evans, Evgenii Dadonov, Brendan Gallagher, and even Kirby Dach are likely candidates to see an uptick in shooting percentage.
Outlook Is Cloudy
Fans of the 2023 Entry Draft will like this one.
The Canadiens were predicted to be one of the worst teams in the league, and with a 13-12-2 record, they’re certainly one of the more surprising storylines in the NHL.
But if their underlying numbers are any indication, things are about to become very difficult for the Canadiens.
In addition to a schedule that is set to present more of a challenge than it did in the first third of the season, the Habs are in the bottom 10 of the league when it comes to a few crucial metrics.
Somewhat surprisingly, some of the results are worse than what they produced last season when they finished last overall in the NHL.
For example, last season they controlled a little over 45 percent of the high-danger chances, one of the worst results in the league, whereas they’ve managed to dip all the way down to 42 percent this season.
The good news is they are controlling a larger share of the shots this season, but the discrepancy between the quantity and the quality of their chances is likely to make a climb up the standings a very difficult proposition.