In trying to stave off elimination in Game 5 against the Maple Leafs on Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN), it’s painfully simple to say that the Canadiens need to score more goals.
After all, you’re not going to win many series where you literally average just a single goal per game.
But, to solve a problem, it’s better to treat the cause, rather than the symptoms. It’s easy to say that the Canadiens need to score more goals vs. the Maple Leafs — in Game 5, but also the rest of the series. But do they know how?
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At least one Hab identifies the problem
If nothing else, it seems like Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry realizes part of the problem. The Habs aren’t really creating the types of chances that tend to convert to goals.
“I think we’ve got to find a way to get to the inside,” Petry said, via NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger. “A lot of our shots are coming from the outside, and [Campbell’s] sucking up the puck and not allowing rebounds.
“We’ve got to find a way to get in his eyes, get tips, get some sort of greasy goals to get us going.”
Of course, what you’d like to do differs from what you can do. The Penguins would have loved to get more saves against the Islanders. Connor McDavid would love it if the Oilers found a better supporting cast. Actually making that happen is a different beast, but at least Petry recognizes part of the problem.
Can Canadiens score ‘greasy goals’ vs. Maple Leafs?
Still, it’s fair to wonder if that’s an organization-wide edict. Consider who is taking the most shots, and you get a taste of the different scoring recipes for the Canadiens and Maple Leafs.
- Auston Matthews is far-and-away the shots leader for both teams; his 23 SOG bests Jeff Petry (12), Josh Anderson, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner (all at 11).
- Now, sure, no one should expect anyone to out-shoot Matthews, especially with John Tavares sidelined. That said, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs disperse their shots in different ways.
It’s already noteworthy that Petry, a defenseman, leads the Canadiens in shots on goal with 12. Yet, it’s maybe a bit more troubling that four of the Canadiens’ top 10 players in SOG are defensemen: Petry (12), Shea Weber (nine), Ben Chiarot (six), and Joel Edmundson (six). Meanwhile, only Morgan Rielly (10) and T.J. Brodie (six) rank among the Maple Leafs’ most frequent shooters.
Maybe a visual example would cement that thought. Via Hockey Viz, you can see that the Canadiens simply take a ton of point shots. They create some chances from high-danger areas, mind you, but not as much from the “greasiest” areas:
Now, compare the Canadiens’ shot locations to that of the Maple Leafs in 2020-21:
Sure, it would be unfair to expect the Canadiens to totally match the Maple Leafs’ firepower. But it’s fair to ask if some of the issues are systemic.
It makes something like Shea Weber’s howling shot a double-edged sword. While it can be a dangerous weapon, a slapper from the point generally isn’t as lethal as a shot from the slot. Nonetheless, Canadiens players might defer to Weber. And they might be advised to do so by their coaching staff.
On the bright side, the Canadiens seem to have made at least some efforts to get to those greasy areas, or at least not waste as many point shots vs. the Maple Leafs. Consider this heat map of the series at 5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick:
Is that perfect? Not necessarily, especially since the bottom line is that defensemen are still generating a big portion of the Habs’ shots on goal.
Running out of time
Instead, it again begs the question of just how capable the Canadiens are of actually consistently creating those “greasy goals.”
Maybe it will boil down to getting a few breaks to open things up?
Even if the Canadiens are guilty of a quantity-over-quality approach, Jack Campbell is unlikely to maintain his .965 save percentage. Josh Anderson’s Game 1 goal wasn’t necessarily the “greasy goal” that Petry was talking about, yet it exhibited some of the qualities Montreal might be looking for.
Anderson mixed his speed with his ability to overpower defenders to score a semi-breakaway beauty (jump to the minute mark):
If the Canadiens could capitalize on (or create) a Maple Leafs mistake or two in Game 5, maybe that would allow them to get comfortable again, and generate goals both greasy and clean? It’s possible, but the Habs are also running out of time.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.