BROSSARD – Goals are becoming increasingly hard to come by in today's NHL, and Michel Therrien and his troops are doing everything possible to turn the tables on that particular trend.
On Monday morning, the Habs bench boss tweaked his lines, and spent the better part of the on-ice session focusing on five-on-five play in an effort to ignite a Canadiens lineup that currently ranks 21st in goals-for per game. Michael Bournival practiced alongside Daniel Briere and Travis Moen, while Brendan Gallagher was paired with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais.
“A lot of teams have made adjustments. Last season, we made adjustments, and this year, a lot of teams are doing the same thing that we did last season. There’s not a lot of space out there on the ice,” offered Therrien, whose club has averaged 2.43 goals per game through 21 contests thus far this season. “I watched a few games on Sunday. It’s close hockey. I think it’s good hockey. It’s intense hockey.
“Teams are battling it out on the ice,” added Therrien. “We worked on a few aspects of our game designed to improve our rhythm when it comes to countering the opponents’ offensive systems. We’re paying attention to this aspect of our game. If we keep working hard, good things will happen.”
The Canadiens’ offensive struggles, however, are by no means unique to them alone. Goal scoring has declined steadily league-wide since the 2005-06 NHL campaign when teams recorded an average of 3.08 goals per game. That number now stands at 2.72 on the year.
Shot-blocking aficionado Josh Gorges offered up his assessment of why teams like the Habs are struggling to light the lamp in a league that has gone out of its way to up offensive output by implementing a host of rule changes in recent years.
“It’s a game now that’s all about the front of the net. Garbage goals. Winning battles out of the corners and coming to the net, and you don’t see too many tic-tac-toe, open-rush type goals,” offered Gorges, who has thwarted 54 shot attempts directed at Canadiens netminders on the year, which ranks him third in the league. “Late in games, when teams have to open up, there are mistakes that are made and odd-man rushes happen, but you see more and more that it’s a tight-checking game. I think that’s why you’re not seeing as many goals as before.
“Over time, one coach might find a solution on how to tighten up in terms of defensive zone coverage, and if it works for that one team, you’re going to see six, seven, eight, nine or ten teams say that if it works for them, it can work for us,” added the veteran rearguard, who has also amassed 30 hits this season. “Then, everyone adapts. You’re seeing a trend in that way.”
Veteran Brian Gionta also chimed in on the subject of goal-scoring following Monday morning’s skate. The Rochester, NY native insists that there’s no great mystery behind teams’ inability to score at will in this day and age.
“It’s coaching. It’s video. Guys are quicker, bigger, stronger. The areas to score goals are harder to get in to, so there are a lot of factors,” noted Gionta, who has four goals and nine points to his credit in 20 games in 2013-14. “But, it’s the same for everybody. If you want to win games, you’ve got to try to solve it.”
Line changes aside, Gionta is adamant that the best way to turn things around on offense is to continue plugging away shift after shift, game after game.
“We’re just trying to stick with it. A lot of teams are trying to pressure us and we’ve got to break that pressure,” insisted Gionta. “It’s what we try to do to teams, so we’ve got to be more assertive and try to establish our game over top of theirs.”
The Minnesota Wild, who currently rank second in the NHL in goals-against per game, will undoubtedly provide a challenge in that regard come Tuesday night when the two clubs do battle at the Bell Centre.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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