What the Puck: Canadiens haven't had a scoring star for decades

Cole Caufield was supposed to be the hot sniper, but he’s been firing blanks this season with only seven goals in his first 23 games.

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The Montreal Canadiens can’t score goals.

It’s an evergreen lede. I could’ve written that sentence any year in this century and it would’ve rung true. It has literally been decades that the Habs have been stuck in a scoring drought. It’s downright bizarre with gusts up to insane.

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Even with terrible management — and heaven knows the Canadiens have had their fair share of that in the past 30 years — you’d think they might stumble upon a scoring star once every decade or so. But no. That’s not the Montreal way.

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The team’s last 50-goal scorer was Stéphane Richer and he hit the Big 5-0 for a second time in the 1989-90 season when the exciting right-winger from Ripon put the puck in net 51 times. The last dude wearing the CH to make it to the 40-goal mark was Vincent Damphousse way back in 1993-’94, the season after the good guys won their last Cup.

Max Pacioretty was the only Hab to score a serious number of goals in recent years. He broke the 30-mark five times and even made it to 39 in 2013-2014. He’s kind of Montreal’s forgotten man because, I think, he wasn’t the world’s most exciting player, and was always a non-factor in the playoffs when things really mattered.

The team was supposed to finally have its genuine bona-fide scoring star in Cole Caufield, but he’s been firing blanks this season. The diminutive left-winger has only seven goals in his first 23 games, ranking him 86th among National Hockey League goal-scorers. He is on a pace for about 25 goals. That’s OK, but nothing special for a young man who is meant to be our star sniper. Last season, when he went down with his season-ending shoulder injury, he had already notched 26 goals in 46 games.

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I still believe Caufield can be an elite scorer, but it ain’t happening right now. Teams have figured him out and he often gets out-muscled for the puck by bigger and stronger guys. By the way, I liked Caufield’s goal against Columbus this week. It was a goal-mouth scramble and he just banged in a loose puck. It was a dirty goal, in sharp contrast to his usual laser snipes from the face-off circle, and he’s going to have to get in those rough places to score more of those kinds of goals.

The entire team has only scored 64 goals so far this season. The only teams who’ve scored less are the two worst teams in the league, the last-place San Jose Sharks (36), the second-to-last-place Chicago Blackhawks (54), the Anaheim Ducks (63), the New York Islanders (61), and the Washington Capitals (51). (Oddly, the Caps have scored just 51, but are in 12th place in the league for the good reason they have one of the lowest goals-against records.)

Cayden Primeau couldn’t stop a beach ball on his glove-hand side Thursday in the Panthers’ 5-1 decimation of the Canadiens, but even if he’d played like Ken Dryden, you still don’t win many games when you score one goal. It’s also worth noting defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic was the lone scorer for Montreal on Thursday.

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The D-men account for 18 of Montreal’s 64 goals. In other words, the entire roster of forwards have only scored 46 goals in 23 games. That’s brutal. Worse yet, take off the two leading scorers, Caufield and Alex Newhook, who each have seven, and all the other forwards have only scored 32 goals thus far. Famously, Josh Anderson hasn’t scored once this season.

The lack of scoring stars here over a quarter-century is baffling. Or is it? Maybe the Canadiens like it this way.

This is the team that passed up homegrown scoring sensation Denis Savard, who was lighting it up right in the Canadiens’ backyard in Verdun, in the 1980 draft. This is the team that traded away John LeClair, who went on to score 50 goals on three occasions for the Philadelphia Flyers.

This is the team that traded Pierre Turgeon after one full season during which he scored 38 goals and garnered 96 points. This is the team that opted this past draft to go with a stay-at-home blueliner David Reinbacher with their fifth-overall pick rather than take a chance on a potential scoring star in Russian centre Matvei Michkov.

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The focus has been on defence and goaltending since the late ’90s. Until Martin St. Louis, the coaches were all about making sure players were strong without the puck, that they didn’t take chances. It’s a boring way to play hockey and, check the history, it didn’t win the team much of anything.

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The whole stay-at-home philosophy is perfectly encapsulated in the defining Canadiens player of this century, Carey Price. The plan for nearly 20 years was hold your breath and hope Carey saves your bacon. How did that work out? Yeah, not so great.

With the arrival of managers Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes and St. Louis behind the bench, it was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of more exciting hockey. And we all loved that concept. If you’re not going to compete for the Cup, at least give us long-suffering fans a little fun and entertainment at the rink.

But for the moment, it’s only more of the same. Not a lot of goals. And a management team that seems to have done a much better job developing its D corp than its forwards.

But let’s remain hopeful. Maybe Anderson will score a goal one day.

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