Another season, another round of drama for Alex Galchenyuk with the Montreal Canadiens. Amid the team-wide struggles in the first month of the season, Galchenyuk has been singled out as the biggest non-performer among the team’s better scorers and has been demoted to the fourth line for most of the season.
It’s tough not to see some just cause behind the coaching staff’s decision; Galchenyuk has a whopping zero even strength points so far, and his power play time remains strong, leading to two goals there, so the problem is an even strength one.
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The Canadiens want Galchenyuk to pull himself up by the bootstraps and get his game going, but from the wing he’s never been much of a play driver. He’s had more success driving offence and possession from centre. And if he’s being asked to drive play from the wing, sticking him with a struggling Ales Hemsky or poor offensive players like Torrey Mitchell and Jacob de la Rose doesn’t look like the best strategy.
But with all that said, how bad has Galchenyuk really been at generating offence at even strength?
Looking at Galchenyuk’s last two seasons and first month of 2017-18, there are some things about his current performance that aren’t very desirable. First of all, his scoring chances both overall and on net are declining for a second straight season as Galchenyuk’s even strength shot rate has plummeted, and secondly his passes to the slot have all but disappeared.
There are a couple of caveats to each problem here. While Galchenyuk’s shot rate is dropping, he’s starting to shoot from closer in than before, which should compensate somewhat. After Galchenyuk was put at wing down the stretch in 2015-16, his shot rate started to drop fairly significantly, and his passing game picked up. That trend started amid criticisms that he wasn’t a good enough playmaker to play the centre position, so it could be a conscious decision that has been taken too far.
For his passes to the slot, it’s not for lack of effort, just a lack of success. Last season Galchenyuk was one of the more successful Habs in completing passes to the slot, with 40.4 per cent of his passes finding their mark; only Andrei Markov was better. This season he’s completed only 18 per cent of those attempted passes.
Part of that might be bad timing and poor choices, trying to force plays that aren’t there, but there are also issues on the receiving end. In order for a pass to be successful, your intended target has to control that pass, and it’s not like Galchenyuk has been put with many talented linemates so far at even strength.
Galchenyuk remains one of the NHL’s best forwards at completing passes off the rush – he’s completed the second-most of those in the NHL per minute played this season after finishing eighth last season. That is an area of Galchenyuk’s game the Canadiens have struggled to capitalize on since the beginning of last season when he was in the top-20 in NHL scoring before injuring his knee.
And finally despite all the struggles Galchenyuk is having, especially in terms of completing passes, he’s generating the same amount of scoring chances for his teammates as he did last season.
Generating around six scoring chances per 20 minutes at even strength puts Galchenyuk right around the 85-95th range among NHL forwards, which would make him a fringe first line player offensively. It’s important to note that Galchenyuk produces scoring chances at an even higher rate while playing centre — he was solidly in the top-25 NHL forwards while playing centre the previous two seasons.
No one denies there are issues with Galchenyuk, but there’s really no logical reason he should be on the fourth line when the Canadiens desperately need goals. Or if you’re going to put him on the fourth line in a lower leverage situation, why not have him play in the middle there, where he can have the space to find his game and refine his defensive zone coverage?
The Canadiens seem to finally understand that publicly saying they don’t believe in Galchenyuk is a bad idea, with GM Marc Bergevin doubling down on keeping Galchenyuk in the fold in his Wednesday press conference, but they still don’t seem to be able to put him in a position for success.
It’s all well and good to say that players need to be self starters, but it would be good for both Galchenyuk and the Canadiens to help boost his confidence instead of stepping on it.