Welcome to The Week in NUMBERS. Each week, I highlight three key statistics that have defined the successes and failures of the Montreal Canadiens team over the last seven days.
This week: career high for Juraj Slafkovsky, Cole Caufield adds dimension to his game and Brendan Gallagher is back.
Juraj Slafkovsky playing time v. the Blues, a career high
CH fans finally got what they wanted to see Saturday night, as Martin St-Louis finally paired Juraj Slafkovsky with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield on the first line. The top pick in the 2022 draft responded with possibly his best career game. He played more than 18 minutes, by far a career high, having only crossed the 16-minute mark twice before.
Slafkovsky seemed more decisive with the puck alongside CH’s two best forwards. There were still moments of hesitation where a shot should have come quicker, but he cut toward the net more often, setting season highs for shots from the slot (3) and bottom of the slot (2) and scoring his first goal of the year. Despite the final score, the top line finished with 54.7% of expected goals in their favor, thanks in part to an 11-6 advantage in scoring chances. We are far from the results of the Slafkovsky-Newhook-Anderson trio, who only had 33% of expected goals and who were dominated 71-34 for shots attempted and 4-0 for goals.
Very encouraging signs for the young player, who certainly won an extended audition on the first line.
Completed passes to the slot by Cole Caufield this season
Cole Caufield is first and foremost a sniper, it’s no secret. He is constantly looking for the opportunity to unleash his lightning shot, but this season he is much more active in trying to spot his teammates in an advantageous position. And the difference is huge.
In 46 games last year, Caufield completed only 20 passes to the slot. That was less than Jesse Ylönen and Alex Belzile, who played fewer games, got significantly less ice time and played in less advantageous situations than number 22. This season, Caufield is already on pace to surpass his career total. last year with 16 completed passes to the slot in 11 games. It’s no surprise that he’s also just three assists away from matching his total from last year.
This is a massive development for him and his rise to one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL. Despite the almost complete absence of dangerous passes last year, he still scored 26 goals in 46 games. If opponents now have to respect Caufield’s pass in their coverage, it opens up possibilities for him and his teammates, as defenders cannot attempt to cover the shot option as aggressively or risk leaving a passing lane uncovered. .
At this rate, Caufield would finish the season with 119 passes to the slot and 52 assists. A contract that already seemed like a bargain could become even better very quickly if he continues this development.
Consecutive matches with 4 shots on target for Brendan Gallagher
After scoring fewer than 10 goals in each of the last two seasons due to injuries, Brendan Gallagher appears to have found form alongside Sean Monahan. Gallagher has always stood out for his energy and his willingness to attack the net to take shots from close range. And that’s what he’s been doing over the last few games. He’s had four shots in each of the last four games. He also leads the CH with six shots from the bottom of the slot during this period.
His line with Sean Monahan and Tanner Pearson has been the most consistent this season and Gallagher’s energy has a lot to do with it. Take this Sean Monahan goal for example.
— NHL (@NHL)
November 3, 2023
Gallagher won a battle along the boards that allowed Monahan to have a two-on-one that led to the goal. He also played a key role in Slafkovsky’s power play goal against the Blues on Saturday night.
My second favorite thing about this goal I noticed in slow-mo:
You can see Gallagher recognize Slaf has a path to the net, so he jumps into action to clear a path doing not-quite-enough-for-an-interference-call. https://t.co/OP8iojNj89
— Shaun Hashim (@shaunhashim)
November 5, 2023
As soon as he saw that Slafkovsky had the space to cut towards the net, he did everything to ensure that defenseman Justin Faulk, who has a 3″ and 30 lb advantage over Gallagher, was not able to to defend your goalkeeper well.
In short, Gallagher is back and it’s good to see after difficult seasons where he was clearly slowed down by injuries.