Takeaways: Can Pacioretty regain scoring prowess with these Canadiens?

James Reimer made 38 saves and the Florida Panthers blanked the Montreal Canadiens.

Another day, another Montreal Canadiens loss.

This one was a 2-0 decision that went to the Florida Panthers, with James Reimer making 35 saves for the shutout and Connor Brickley and Vincent Trocheck scoring the goals to put them three points ahead of the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“We can’t get frustrated,” said Brendan Gallagher to Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after the first period.

They had arrived in Fort Lauderdale on the heels of three straight losses, over which they failed to score more than once per game, and we haven’t got a clue how Gallagher and his teammates can avoid getting down on themselves after leaving there without finding the back of the net in their final game of 2017.

Here are a few more takeaways from Saturday’s contest.

None and done, one and done, none and none

A long portion of the Canadiens’ practice in Florida on Friday was dedicated to offensive zone pressure.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien emphasized the importance of the cycle and the activation of his defence in the offensive zone — and how crucial those elements were to wearing down the opposition. He did this by running five-on-none drills, and he told reporters after that he felt his team was too focused on generating its chances off the rush instead of employing these methods.

We can report that not much changed against the Panthers on Saturday:

None and done: The rush gets stopped just inside the offensive blue line and no scoring chance is generated.

One and done: The rush generates a single opportunity before the puck is going the other way.

None and none: You get no goals and no points in the standings when you can’t sustain any offensive pressure.

Give the Panthers credit. Their forwards did a great job of backtracking through the neutral zone, which enabled their defencemen to step up at their own blue line to break up plays.

But the counter to that is to chip the puck in and go get it so you can establish a cycle, and the Canadiens either failed to put the puck in an area they could retrieve it from or failed to win enough battles when they did put the puck in a good place. The evidence wasn’t just in the fact that they failed to score a goal, it was also easily found when you looked at the scoresheet and saw they didn’t draw a single penalty in the game.

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The guns aren’t firing

It isn’t for lack of effort that Montreal’s best offensive players couldn’t break through in this one.

Jonathan Drouin had six shots on net and a few really good chances in tight, and Reimer was up to the task. Artturi Lehkonen had four shots and got robbed. And Alex Galchenyuk, who came into this one with 13 points in his last 15 games, had four shots and ditto.

And even Max Pacioretty, who’s mired in the worst slump he’s been in since establishing himself as a perennial 30-goal scorer six years ago, had four shots and eight attempts.

A closing thought on Pacioretty

Pro scouts are invaluable to their organizations, but also to curious reporters.

A thought one shared with us earlier this season really resonated, and it continues to come to mind with each passing game that Pacioretty goes without scoring. He’s now gone 11 straight and has only one goal in his last 21 games (in case you hadn’t heard from literally every corner of the hockey world).

We knew that when the Canadiens lost defenceman Andrei Markov and right winger Alexander Radulov to free agency this past summer — and failed to replace either one of them — it was going to have an adverse effect on Pacioretty. We assumed Jonathan Drouin would help mitigate some of that, but we knew he couldn’t fix all of it.

As we watched the first games the Canadiens played, with Drouin and Pacioretty displaying very little chemistry, we were curious as to what the issue was.

We posited to the scout that Pacioretty had always been a dangerous rush scorer, and not having Markov to give him clean breakouts was likely the main issue leading to his struggles.

We’ll paraphrase his response.

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“Look at the players on the right side of Montreal’s lineup,” the scout said. “None of them are playmakers. You have Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Lehkonen or Paul Byron, and they’re all goal scorers.

“Now look at the top three centres. All three of them [Drouin, Tomas Plekanec and Phillip Danault] are lefties, which means they’ll automatically defer to their forehand side on zone entries and give the puck to the right wing more often than not. It’s the easier play to make.

“Which one of those right wingers is going to set Pacioretty up for his goals?” the scout asked.

“There was a lot of talk about how Drouin would replace the scoring lost when Radulov signed with Dallas, but none of that accounted for the offence lost for Pacioretty,” the scout concluded.

A few weeks ago we asked Pacioretty if not having Markov hurt what we suggested had always been a strength of his (scoring off the rush).

The captain said our perception was off and that he hadn’t historically scored the bulk of his goals off the rush.

“If anything I should score more off the rush, and yeah, Marky was a great passer out of our end,” he said.

But Pacioretty then mentioned that he and Galchenyuk were the biggest beneficiaries of Markov’s creativity in the offensive zone. He said that was a reflection of how special Markov was and that it shouldn’t be misconstrued as a knock against the team’s other defencemen.

“If you look inside the right faceoff circle, that’s where both [Galchenyuk] and I have scored a ton of goals from,” said Pacioretty.

And if you review the tapes going back through the years, you’ll see a lot of brilliant passes from Markov to those two players in that spot.

It goes without saying Pacioretty can do more on his own to break from his longest slump in recent memory. A bounce would help, too, and it’s only a matter of time until one goes his way and likely sends him off to the races. His history suggests it will happen.

But it’s worth asking if he can regain his 30-goal form with the Canadiens, who have no players who can do for him what Markov and Radulov did.


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