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Canadiens Analysis

Juraj Slafkovsky’s Play On The Montreal Canadiens Top Line



Montreal Canadiens Slafkovsky

Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky is currently playing the best hockey of his young career.

Much of it has to do with usage, as his numbers improved the moment he was placed on the top line alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.

And it hasn’t just been a slight improvement. Rather, Slafkovsky’s numbers have gone from below replacement to borderline elite in the last few weeks.

Prior to his promotion, with Slafkovsky on the ice the Canadiens managed to control just 44 percent of the shots, 43 percent of the expected goals, 47 percent of the high-danger chances, and 40 percent of the goals. Those are concerning numbers regardless of the player being evaluated, let alone a first-overall pick.

But from the very moment he joined the first line, the numbers skyrocketed.

In almost 200 minutes of 5v5 play with Suzuki and Caufield, the line has controlled 55.5 percent of the shots, 58.5 percent of the expected goals, 57 percent of the high-danger chances, and 53 percent of the goals.

The change in numbers is the hockey equivalent of upgrading your 1998 Sunfire with a fake spoiler to a brand-new Bugatti Veyron.

Of course, we can’t remove the games in which Slafkovsky did not play on the top line from the mix, which means when we evaluate his entire season, he’s still slightly below 50 percent in shot share and expected goals, but given his results on the top line, there’s little to no danger that the statistics will suddenly crater.

Any time a line is controlling almost 60 percent of the expected goals, you can confidently claim their production will be sustainable.

Coaching Impact

Head coach Martin St-Louis also made life easier for Slafkovsky by not only giving him an opportunity to play with the team’s best players but also by modifying what type of zone starts he gave the trio.

Slafkovsky’s offensive zone starts went from 39 percent to 64 percent, putting Slafkovsky in a situation that is incredibly conducive to scoring.

In addition, St-Louis showed a healthy amount of patience when it came to the budding chemistry on the top line. Even though they were controlling the play during most of their shifts, goals were few and far between throughout the first 10 or so games.

St-Louis’ job is to win games, and patience can wear thin when a team’s top line is not producing.

Fortunately for all involved, the production has finally caught up to the process, and the results have been encouraging.

In Tuesday night’s win against the Dallas Stars, we saw the top line drive the play despite the rest of the team being outplayed significantly. Slafkovsky only received one assist on the scoresheet, but thanks to his renewed confidence, he was key in three different scoring plays.

In all three situations, Slafkovsky used his frame to protect the puck and keep the play alive, or force a turnover.

It’s probably too early to declare Slafkovsky an impact player. We should also be careful when discussing the impact of the top line since we’re dealing with under 200 minutes of 5v5 ice time, but all signs point to the Montreal Canadiens now having a first line with high-end potential.

St-Louis gets credit for putting the line together, and keeping them together when the goals were hard to come by.

But Slafkovsky should also get credit for quickly adapting to his new linemates and bringing a physical element to the table that pushed the line to the next level.

All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.