Stu Cowan: Canadiens need their forwards to start scoring

Lack of offence up front makes Habs’ decision to select a defenceman with No. 5 overall pick at this year’s draft questionable.

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The Canadiens have been getting goals from their defencemen this season. Now they need their forwards to start scoring.

The Canadiens lost 4-0 to the Kings Saturday in Los Angeles, dropping their record to 9-10-2. It was the first time this season the Canadiens were shut out and it also ended a streak of eight consecutive games in which they got a goal from a defenceman. Eleven of the Canadiens’ last 22 goals have been scored by defencemen.

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Mike Matheson leads the defencemen with five goals, followed by Justin Barron (four), Johnathan Kovacevic (three), Kaiden Guhle (two) and Arber Xhekaj and Gustav Lindström (one each). The 16 goals are almost half as many as the Canadiens got all of last season from their defencemen when then finished with 33, led by Matheson’s eight.

Forwards Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Alex Newhook and Sean Monahan are tied for the team lead with six goals, which puts them on pace to finish the season with 23 goals. Through Sunday’s games there were 84 players in the NHL with more than six goals. Suzuki and Caufield are tied for the team lead in points with 6-11-17 totals, which ranked them 71st in the NHL.

The Canadiens haven’t had a 30-goal scorer since Brendan Gallagher scored 33 in 2018-19. They haven’t had a 40-goal scorer since Vincent Damphousse scored 40 in 1993-94 and they haven’t had a 50-goal scorer since Stéphane Richer scored 51 in 1989-90. The last time the Canadiens had a player average a point per game or better for a season was 2007-08 when Alex Kovalev had 35-49-84 totals in 82 games. They haven’t had a player finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring since 1985-86 when Mats Naslund finished eighth with 43-67-110 totals. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that year.

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Those stats are why I was surprised when the Canadiens decided to select a defenceman, David Reinbacher, with the No. 5 overall pick at this year’s NHL Draft. A lack of offence has been a problem with the Canadiens for a very long time.

Heading into this year’s draft there were red flags concerning Matvei Michkov — including the mysterious death of his father in Russia — who went to the Philadelphia Flyers with the No. 7 overall pick. But Ryan Leonard, who went to the Washington Capitals with the No. 8 pick, looks like a player who could help the Canadiens. During his two seasons with the U.S. National Development Team before getting drafted, the 6-foot, 192-pound right-winger scored 77 goals. That’s two less than the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews scored during his two seasons with the U.S. development team and three more than the New Jersey Devils’ Jack Hughes had with that team. Leonard has nine goals in 14 games this season as an 18-year-old freshman at Boston College.

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At the NHL Combine before this year’s draft, Canadiens GM Kent Hughes said Leonard reminded him of the Tkachuk brothers — Matthew of the Florida Panthers and Brady of the Ottawa Senators — with his “physical, intense play style and work ethic.” Former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin took a pass on Brady Tkachuk at the 2018 NHL Draft, selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the No. 3 overall pick before Ottawa took Tkachuk at No. 4. A reliable source told me former Canadiens assistant GM Trevor Timmins had concerns about Tkachuk’s skating ability. Tkachuk, now in his sixth NHL season, has scored 135 goals, while Kotkaniemi has scored 59, including seven this season with the Carolina Hurricanes.

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This isn’t a knock on Reinbacher, who has 1-2-3 totals in nine games this season with Kloten HC in the Swiss-A League and might develop into an outstanding NHL defenceman. But it’s hard to find goal-scoring, especially for the Canadiens.

The Habs’ Josh Anderson is still looking for his first goal this season after 21 games and more than 354 minutes of ice time, including 76 minutes on the power play.

Jake Evans scored in the first game of the season and hasn’t scored since. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard had no goals in 13 games before being sidelined with a lower-body injury. Michael Pezzetta has one goal in 17 games and none in his last eight. Juraj Slafkovsky has two goals, including one in the last 10 games. Going back to last season, the 19-year-old who was the No. 1 overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft has two goals in his last 42 games.

Tanner Pearson scored three goals in his first five games with the Canadiens after being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks, but has no goals in the last 16 games. Christian Dvorak has one goal in 11 games since returning from knee surgery and no goals in the last nine games.

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Caufield has two goals in the last 14 games, Monahan has no goals in the last 11 games, while Suzuki and Gallagher have both gone seven games without a goal.

One bright spot for the Canadiens is that right-winger Joshua Roy, selected in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2021 NHL Draft, is averaging a point per game as a 20-year-old AHL rookie with 7-11-18 totals in 18 games with the Laval Rocket.

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