BROSSARD, Que. — It was easy for all of us to look at Max Domi’s impressive numbers last season and conclude that he was in for a regression this season.
The 24-year-old put up 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games after never scoring more than 18 goals and 52 points in any of his first three NHL seasons. He had also never scored on more than 11.5 per cent of his shots but managed to score on 13.8 per cent of them during the 2018-19 campaign, so it was only natural to assume his production might dip a bit during the 2019-20 season.
The thing is, Domi certainly didn’t come into this season thinking that would be the case. No hockey player arrives at training camp with tempered expectations for themselves—especially not a player who’s in a contract year.
Domi’s aim was to maintain or improve on his production while exhibiting a more complete game.
While he’s made strides away from the puck—Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after Monday’s practice that Domi has certainly improved on the defensive side—Domi’s not exactly thrilled about the fact that he has only six goals and 18 points through 30 games.
That said, just as it was like pulling teeth from Domi trying to get him to talk about his personal stats while he was producing at an unprecedented rate last season, it’s just the same now that he isn’t.
“Individual stuff doesn’t really matter to me,” the Winnipeg native said on Monday.
But Domi did acknowledge that it does matter to him when the Canadiens aren’t winning.
Lately the Canadiens have been losing a lot. Sure, they’ve won two of their last three games, but they’re the only two wins they’ve managed in their last 11.
“That’s when you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Okay, I’ve got to be a lot better,” said Domi.
Julien feels there’s one specific way Domi can do that.
“I just see a player who’s a little bit different, not quite getting to the inside of the dots and creating those chances,” the coach said. “He was hungry last year. He wanted to score, and I think he’s got to go back to those areas if he wants to have some production.”
There’s no question about it.
One of the things that’s at least partially in Domi’s control is where he positions himself to get chances, and it’s clear he’s not getting into the scoring areas as often as he—or Julien—would like.
The fact is, Domi is on pace for 213 shots on net this season, which would be 10 more than he notched for a career high last season. But according to www.naturalstattrick.com, his scoring chances per 60 minutes from the high-danger area (between the faceoff dots in the offensive zone and down to the opposing crease) are down by close to 30 per cent.
When we told him that on Monday, it got him thinking.
“I don’t really look at numbers and stuff like that, but now that I know that I think it’s interesting,” Domi said. “If you look at playing with a guy like Jo (Jonathan Drouin) who has the puck a little bit more, that’s when you kind of get open in those areas versus when you’re trying to make plays for other guys in that area. So, you’re changing your role as you go. But whether you’re more of a shooter on the line, or you’re more of a passer, I think that dictates where you are on the ice and where your goals are coming from.”
That’s no copout.
Domi knows he can do more to get to the inside of the ice and do more to shoot pucks from there, but he also knows that playing with different players generates different results.
In over 100 minutes played alongside Drouin at 5-on-5 this season, Domi has helped create eight goals and the team has allowed only three. The Canadiens have also earned a 56-per cent share of the high-danger scoring chances under those circumstances.
Without Drouin, who suffered a torn tendon in his left wrist on Nov. 15, the team has allowed two more goals than it’s scored with Domi’s on the ice. And its share of high-danger scoring chances is three per cent lower.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to at least partially explain why Domi isn’t quite producing to the level he did last season.
“We both think the game very similarly,” Domi said when he was asked about why it works well with Drouin. “We like offence, we like creating plays and having fun out there. When you have a guy that shares that exact same interest—not that other guys don’t—when they think the game (the same way)…instant chemistry.”
We’d have been among those who thought playing with Nick Suzuki for an extended period would help Domi produce at a similar rate for those exact reasons. But Suzuki doesn’t play at the same speed Drouin does, and he doesn’t play the same style either.
“It’s totally different,” Domi said.
Just as playing with Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, like Domi will do for a third consecutive game when the Canadiens visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, is also different.
Drouin is excellent on the rush and perhaps the most capable player the Canadiens have when it comes to gaining the offensive blue line in possession, whereas Lehkonen is about playing the percentages and placing the puck in a spot in the offensive zone where he or his linemates can retrieve it and set things up from there.
“He’s a guy that gets in there on the forecheck and makes plays,” said Domi about Lehkonen. “He gives you the puck so you can make the plays and he gets open. He’s a shooter. A lot of speed along the wall as well, responsible defensively, so he’s great.”
For as good as Armia has been this season, he’s not a consistent net-front presence like Andrew Shaw, who scored 19 goals and had a career-high 47 points in 63 games played mostly alongside Domi last season.
“Armia—you guys know him—he’s a big body, (he) controls the play,” Domi said. “He makes unbelievable plays with the puck, and one-on-one he’s one of the best in the league. So he can protect the puck with the best of them…”
But neither Armia nor Lehkonen will make the plays Drouin can to find Domi in the middle of the ice.
That’s just one more reason for why Domi needs to take more control of what’s happening on his line.
“For now, all you can really do is simplify your game,” he said. “Play good defensively, do what the coaches ask and, if you can, help your teammates out and be a positive influence on the team in any way possible.”
The best way would be for Domi to score more, and he knows that.
All advanced statistics cited in this article came from www.naturalstattrick.com