Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis wants Cole Caufield to work in tight

“Like the rest of our group, he’s got to get on the inside. That’s it,” St. Louis said of his struggling winger. “With or without the puck.”

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When you’re a scorer like Cole Caufield and you’re mired in a slump, the power of positive thinking is paramount.

“Just think the next one’s going to go in,” the Canadiens forward said after Tuesday’s practice at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard. “That’s kind of the only way you can look at it. The more chances I get, hopefully it goes in.”

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Caufield can only hope his scoring drought ends Wednesday night, when the Canadiens host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second of a three-game pre-Christmas homestand.

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The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder started the season well, scoring goals in Montreal’s opening two games. After seven matches, he had bumped his total to four goals. But there have been a lot of zeros on his stats sheets since then.

Caufield has gone six games without beating a goaltender. Since scoring against Columbus on Oct. 26, he has three goals in 21 games.

With seven goals and 20 points through 28 games, Caufield is barely on pace to surpass 20 goals this season. On a team that’s offensively challenged, combined with the eight-year, US$62.8-million contract he signed in early June — making him the team’s second-highest active player, behind captain Nick Suzuki — more is expected.

With 105 shots, including nine against Buffalo last Saturday, Caufield by far is the team leader. Sooner or later, one of them should go in. Much like Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Caufield is a right-handed shot and likes to position himself on the left side of the ice. He has a quick release and many of his shots are fired high and to the short side. Perhaps goalies have started figuring that out?

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Head coach Martin St. Louis came to Caufield’s defence last week, saying the 22-year-old hasn’t forgotten how to score and his total could easily be doubled with some good luck. St. Louis added that he’s more concerned with Caufield’s growth as a player.

But after Tuesday’s practice, St. Louis changed his message slightly, suggesting Caufield must work to get inside more often to the tough areas where goals are scored. He’s not alone in that regard. Much of Tuesday’s practice was devoted to that concept.

“Like the rest of our group, he’s got to get on the inside. That’s it,” St. Louis said. “To me, you’ve got to find ways to get on the inside, with or without the puck.”

Caufield blossomed in the NHL after St. Louis replaced Dominique Ducharme as Montreal’s head coach. Heading into this season, the Wisconsin native had 48 goals in 83 games since the change. That included 26 in 46 games in 2022-23 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.

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“You’re going to have ups and downs throughout the season,” Caufield said. “You’ve got to find ways to get out of it, find ways to create more (offence). Through struggles you can find answers. We’re just trying to find those right now.”

Caufield has spent much of the season with Suzuki at centre. Lately, the duo has been joined by former first overall draft choice Juraj Slafkovsky.

“Personally, I could get on the inside more, surprising the other team when you come in,” Caufield acknowledged. “You can always be around the net more. You’re flying by, getting rebounds and loose pucks that way, too. It’s all about timing and getting more on the inside. I’m just trying to find different ways to make myself be open and get more chances.”

Caufield clearly isn’t taking matters lightly. He spent time on the ice after practice working on his shooting, something he does regularly.

“It’s something I do throughout the season, just to stay sharp,” he explained. “Get more touches and reps in.”

The Canadiens (12-13-3) should be well rested and will be facing a Penguins team that hosted Arizona Tuesday night. Pittsburgh (11-12-3) was on a four-game losing streak heading into the game, with only three wins in 11 contests. Sidney Crosby, at age 36, continues to produce, with 15 goals and 27 points through 26 games.

In other news, the Canadiens announced injured defenceman Jordan Harris continues his rehabilitation process and skated on Tuesday, following practice. He’s expected to return in 10-14 days.

While St. Louis didn’t identify which goaltender would face the Penguins, it figures to be Samuel Montembeault, who hasn’t played since last Thursday against Los Angeles.

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