Whenever Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty goes a couple games without a goal, a large portion of the fan base and media around the team begins to point fingers at him — and that criticism becomes laser focused when it’s coupled with losses.
It’s the same thing every time, with the common refrains of “He needs to hit more” and “He needs to go to the front of the net.” But these are two things you expect grinders to do, and not a top player like Pacioretty.
He has answered those criticisms himself many times in his career, pointing out that his biggest strength is his shot, and the front of the net is the one place you’re guaranteed to have your stick tied up, but it seemingly falls on deaf ears the next time a mini-slump comes around.
Pacioretty is most effective from a middle distance, which is something we’ve looked at before. But without even getting into what makes him effective, let’s not ignore the fact Pacioretty has been doing his job in this series. Just look at the scoring chance leaders so far.
While Pacioretty’s attempts from the slot rank fourth between the two teams, he’s tied for second in attempts on net with Rick Nash. Nash’s efforts have resulted in a couple goals, while Pacioretty’s have not. In fact, Nash’s seven scoring chances on net have produced more goals than the Canadiens’ 35 chances on net between its top-five chance generators.
Does that mean all of these Habs players are performing poorly, or is it perhaps a combination of the performance we’re seeing from Henrik Lundqvist and a bit of good fortune for the New York Rangers?
Let’s ignore for a moment that Pacioretty has a 58.54 per cent Corsi in this series, and that while he’s on the ice the Canadiens have outshot the Rangers 46-22. The fact is he’s done the work necessary to get goals and just needs to keep playing the way he always does. Let’s acknowledge some of the good looks he’s had through the first four games:
Going through six of Pacioretty’s seven scoring chances on net in the series, you can see there are some excellent looks in there. During the regular season those kind of shots from Pacioretty had a 24.6 per cent chance of going in. That means he’s earned about two goals so far from the slot alone, not to mention he’s an above average shooter from a distance as well. It just hasn’t happened for him yet.
In general, this is a problem in hockey analysis, where uncontrollable results are used as a basis to criticize the process of a player’s game. Over small samples like, let’s say four games, this kind of analysis is even lazier.
Scoring is not consistent, and while the Canadiens need Pacioretty to score in order to win this series, he is not the sole focus here, even if he’s the team’s best goal scorer. In order to win their first round series, the Canadiens will have to find a way to solve Lundqvist for more than two goals per game on average.