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Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens Have One Option To Play With Suzuki And Caufield

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Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens have a problem.

Their top line is broken.

To be more accurate, their top line is currently broken, but it doesn’t have to be.

When Martin St-Louis decided to use Joel Armia alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, the goal was to place Armia in a situation that was conducive to scoring his first goal of the season.

Not only did he fail to come remotely close to breaking his scoring drought, but the top line also produced numbers you’d expect from a hastily assembled fourth line that featured a trio of ECHL players.

While on the ice, they controlled just four of the 13 shots, two of the eight scoring chances, and none of the four high-danger scoring chances.

In other words, it was bad. It was really bad.

But it was also quite easy to anticipate.

Suzuki and Caufield have never produced fantastic numbers together unless they’re playing with a winger that has great anticipation, as well as an affinity for creating time and space in the offensive zone.

The third member of the trio must also excel in transition.

If St-Louis is intent on keeping his two best players on the same line, and there’s an argument to be made that they should be broken up, he has two legitimate options in the lineup.

And only one of those options is healthy: Kirby Dach.

The numbers don’t lie, without Dach on their wing, the Suzuki-Caufield combination struggles to control high-danger chances. Their raw talent still leads to goals, but not in any manner that should be considered sustainable.

The Statistics

As evidenced in the chart below, while playing with Anderson and Armia, the top line struggled to control shots (CF%), expected goals (xGF%), and high-danger chances (HDCF%).

Montreal Canadiens xGF with Suzuki

 

The results were much better when Sean Monahan was given a promotion, but not to the point where sustainability was probable.

Of course, there’s logic in using Dach as the second-line centre. It’s his natural position, and despite his paltry 35 percent efficiency in faceoffs, he immediately improves the underlying numbers of most lines he’s placed on.

But it also leads to frustratingly poor results from the team’s two best players, which is a very heavy cost to pay for a team that has earmarked Suzuki and Caufield as the foundation of their rebuild.

Without a functional power play or a suitable winger for the top line, the Canadiens are essentially neutering their best offensive talent, not to mention they’re also robbing fans of one of the few elements on the team that provide a reasonable level of excitement during games.

In the long term, using Dach as a centre makes sense.

But for the time being, given the roster construction, the only logical choice is to return him to the top line.


(All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)

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David Trott

As a Habs fan I find myself in a quandary. We have been winning with rookie defence, goalies playing very well and our #2 C playing out of position to bolster the first line. This isn’t sustainable in the long run so I expect loses. My hope is that there won’t be so many losses that our young players become too discouraged. Losing is part of development but so is winning.

Pierre B.

If you said that Canadiens have only one proven option to play with Suzuki and Caufield, I would agree. When Dach completes this line, it’s dominant. No other other player compares so far. I’d be curious to see these stats after Slafkovsky will have played a few games with Suzuki and Caufield. Perhaps he’s not ready yet, but he’s an option.
Since the goal of the season is one of development, I understand that the management wants to develop Dach as a center now that we know that he can be an effective top line winger. I’m happy to see Slafkovsky promoted on the second line with Dach. I don’t mind that the coach tries different combinations with the top line in the meantime. So what if the team loses a few games to better teams… Such games should provide Suzuki with learning experiences. When Suzuki cannot rely on Dach’s presence, what must he do to improve these underlying stats that yield a sustainable positive goal differential?
For long-term planning, the team is winning if Dach can play both wing and center as well. Even if the CH manages to draft, trade or sign a top-6 center during the off-season, Dach’s ability to play center would still be valuable if only to mitigate the risk of injuries.

Habblab

They have little strength at center right now. I would leave Dach at center and split up Caulfield and Suzuki. I don’t doubt Dach and Caulfield could form a decent combo without Suzuki. Then build another line around Suzuki. This need not be permanent but could hold them over.

Hab in exile

The fact that Suzuki and Caufield need a top winger to make them look decent, tella me that they are not 1st line talent, at least not yet.

If we want to compete for the cup in the not too distant future(~5years) we are going to need some top end talent.

If Guhle misses some time with this injury, things are going to get ugly fast. We may have a good chance at Bedard or Fantili.

We may het another ugly one tonight against the Caps.

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