February 25th, 2024

St. Louis: Caufield, Canadiens need to ‘get on the inside’ to end scoring slump

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on December 12, 2023.

Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis, right, and players look on from the bench in the closing seconds of third period NHL hockey action against the Nashville Predators in Montreal, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. St. Louis had one main message for his forwards amid some offensive slumps: get on the inside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

BROSSARD, Que. – Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis had one main message for his forwards amid some offensive slumps: get on the inside.

The Canadiens rank last in the NHL in goals by forwards with 52, while their defencemen scored 21 times – good for second-best in the league.

“I think we need to play inside a little more,” said St. Louis on Tuesday at the Canadiens’ practice facility. “There’s a little too much on the perimeter. I like the time we spend in the offensive zone but I think we should generate more goals.”

One player Montreal especially needs to have a scoring surge is Cole Caufield.

The 22-year-old Caufield has seven goals through 28 games after scoring 26 in 46 – a 46-goal pace over 82 games – last season. He’s also scoreless in six straight games.

“You’re gonna have ups and downs throughout the season,” said Caufield. “But we have got to find ways to get out of it. Find ways to create more. Through struggles you can find answers, and I think we’re just trying to find those right now.”

Scoring goals has been Caufield’s calling card since before he entered the league thanks to his blistering shot that can beat goalies from a distance.

But with the way things are going, St. Louis – a Hall of Famer with 391 NHL goals – says Caufield needs to find different ways to put the puck in the net. He believes Caufield will find the answer he’s looking closer to the goal.

“The league evolves, you need to evolve as a player,” said St. Louis. “You always have to reinvent yourself a bit, that’s part of having a long career and having success, and Cole is going through that right now.

“He’s a young player, and it’s not an easy league. I know he hasn’t forgotten how to score, he’s gotta keep working on creating chances, and where are those chances? Rarely are they all from the outside, the chances are inside.”

Caufield ranks ninth in shots on goal this season but tied for 119th in goals.

He also owns a below-average 6.7 shooting percentage, which may be a sign of some bad luck.

“Obviously, you just think the next one’s gonna go in,” said Caufield. “I think that’s kind of the only way you can look at it.”

Captain Nick Suzuki has no doubts his linemate will find his scoring touch.

“He’ll probably shoot one off somebody and it’ll go in,” said Suzuki. “He’s a goal scorer, he’s always done it. I’m not really too worried about him.”

Caufield isn’t the only forward having trouble producing, however.

Suzuki and Sean Monahan are tied for the team lead with just eight goals through 28 games this season – a 23-goal pace over a full season.

Josh Anderson has one goal (an empty-netter) all season, Juraj Slafkovsky hasn’t scored in 10 games, Brendan Gallagher hasn’t scored in 15, and the list goes on.

That’s why St. Louis’s comments were directed at the whole group.

“Some guys are better around the net, some guys are better on the perimeter,” said Suzuki. “But you can’t just be one-dimensional. You have to go where the game needs you to go, like Marty says.

“Most goals are scored right there in front of the net or just outside in the slot. So we gotta do a better job of getting there.”

The Canadiens’ situation is compounded by injuries to Kirby Dach (knee, out for the season), Tanner Pearson (upper body, four-six weeks), Alex Newhook (lower body, 10-12 weeks as of Dec. 2), and Rafael Harvey-Pinard (lower body, eight weeks as of Nov. 21).

HARRIS TIMELINE

The Canadiens announced that injured defenceman Jordan Harris (lower body) is expected to return to the lineup in 10 to 14 days. Harris, 23, hasn’t played since Nov. 18 against the Boston Bruins. He has three assists and is minus-seven in 16 games this season.

PENGUINS IN TOWN

The Canadiens (12-12-3) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-12-3) on Wednesday in a battle between two teams trying to get back in the playoff picture.

Montreal is coming off a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Sunday and has lost seven of its last eight games at home.

Pittsburgh had lost four games in a row heading into a game Tuesday night against the Arizona Coyotes before flying to Montreal. Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins with 15 goals – almost double Suzuki and Monahan’s totals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2023.

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