(Columbus, Ohio) You can’t accuse Josh Anderson of not trying.
The Habs trained in the Ohio capital on Tuesday, a very quiet city no doubt partly because of the Winnipeg cold that prevails there.
Training officially began at noon, but by 11:40 a.m., Anderson, Joel Armia and Michael Pezzetta were busy with a three-way penalty shootout drill, supervised by the Canadiens’ director of hockey development, Adam Nicholas. There were a dozen of them on the ice, but these three were doing their own exercise.
The three wingers were positioned in a right triangle, and sometimes shot from the top of the faceoff circle, sometimes from the mouth of the net. Their success rate was enviable, for the simple reason that they were shooting into an empty net.
“We arrived early, so we wanted to take the opportunity to work,” explained Pezzetta after training. We practiced shooting, receiving raised passes, to get a certain feeling. These are things that we don’t really have time to work on during training. »
We would have liked to ask Anderson for the explanation, but the winger did not meet the media. He spoke to reporters in San Jose last week and self-flagellated; no need to add more, even on the eve of another reunion with his old friends. The Habs protect their player who is experiencing difficulties.
As a reminder, Anderson, who scores his twenty goals in 82 games with regularity since his arrival with the Caandien, is stuck at 0 after 21 games this season. In the last five games, his advanced statistics depict an even more worrying situation. Here is the ratio of what the Habs control (compared to the opponent) when Anderson is on the ice at five-on-five during this period, according to Natural Stat Trick:
- Shots: 23.6%
- Shot attempts: 32.1%
- Chance of high quality: 10%
In fact, it is only in terms of goals for and against (3-2) that Montreal displays a positive record when the imposing number 17 is on the surface.
He goes to the right places to score, he gets chances. Scoring in this arena would be big for him, especially this season. It’s coming, we believe in it.
In his role as captain of the Canadian, does Nick Suzuki feel invested in the mission of boosting his morale? “We all want to help each other. Everyone has experienced lethargy before. But it’s difficult for a guy who scored a lot in previous years. We have to stay positive, make sure he stays positive, encourage him, so that his brain continues to believe that he is doing the right things. »
Other players down
Anderson isn’t the only striker down. So are veterans Sean Monahan and Tanner Pearson. Martin St-Louis must navigate these waters, and nuclear solutions like those of his future counterpart, Pascal Vincent, do not seem to be in his arsenal. At least, not in almost two years as coach of the Canadian.
Right now, we have guys who aren’t playing with all their confidence, so we have to manage that.
In his quest for solutions, Martin St-Louis delicately touched his last two lines in a few exercises. The rotations make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions, but one constant was the presence of Pearson alongside Jake Evans, in what looks like a demotion for the veteran Pearson. Said demotion, however, seemed conditional on the insertion of Armia into the squad, a return not yet confirmed.
The first two lines, however, remained unchanged, because St-Louis must look after the entire group, and not just the good of two or three veterans. However, in what shows encouraging signs for the coach so far there’s this rather novel combination of Suzuki, Alex Newhook and Brendan Gallagher. The sample is still thin (only the three games in California), but their puck possession and scoring chances indicators are green. It is only in the goals column – zero goals scored, one goal allowed – that they are in deficit.
The bond between Suzuki and Gallagher is particularly surprising, because these two players had played very little together until now, even if they are teammates for the fifth season. Still according to Natural Stat Trick, they had only played 250 minutes within the same trio over the last four seasons, a sample composed of many shots here and there, which does not lend itself well to analysis. But so far, everything is going well for them.
“Nick has the ability to create something when nothing is open,” Gallagher marvels. You want to position yourself to attack quickly when he makes a play.”
The successes of this new duo are undoubtedly no stranger to the outfit of Gallagher himself, who had an inspired first quarter of the season, despite modest statistics (9 points in 21 games). Gallagher cites his health to explain his outfit, but St-Louis had another explanation.
“He really tries to pay attention to the balance of our five guys. Before, I don’t think he thought about it. He was rushing to the net, but it can be hard to play like that, because it’s a lot of work to cover that much space to get where you want to get. »
Suzuki obviously finds himself with a winger with a very different style from that of his former partner Cole Caufield. “Watching Gallagher over the years, I think I can read his game well. He plays a simple, hard style. I like playing with guys like that,” Suzuki said.
All they have to do is score, at which point the aforementioned veterans will benefit from time to shake themselves out of their torpor.