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Number cruncher: The Odd Couple

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – Ketchup and mustard, peas and carrots; rhythm and blues. Some things are just meant to go well together. And so are two of the top forwards on the Montreal Canadiens, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Different in many ways, they have combined to give the Habs its most productive offensive line of the past five seasons despite fundamental differences in how they think the game.

At first glance, number 51 and number 67 are separated most by stark differences in their backgrounds. The five-foot-seven Desharnais grew up near Quebec City, while the six-foot-two Pacioretty hails from Connecticut. The left-winger never played major junior hockey, and was drafted by Montreal in the first round out of the University of Michigan. Meanwhile, despite tearing up the QMJHL as a member of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the centerman was ignored by all thirty NHL teams at the draft before signing as a free agent with the Habs.

On the ice, however, the main thing which distinguishes Pacioretty and Desharnais is their shooting tendencies. As we saw in a previous instalment of this column, Pacioretty has been the most trigger-happy Hab since making the team full-time in 2009, hitting the net an average of 3.11 times a game. Anything above three shots a game is elite sniper territory, so it’s no surprise that the American has led his team in goals for the past three seasons. For a player who considers his shot to be his biggest asset, he does a superb job of making the most of his strength.

Shooting: 2013-14 (5vs5, through 42 games)

Name                Shots       Avg dist. (ft)   Career%
Desharnais        48            22.9              14.5
Galchenyuk       77            24.4              12.2
Briere                  48            26.0              14.4
Eller                     81            26.4              11.3
Gallagher          112           27.7              11.4
Pacioretty          128           32.0              10.6
Plekanec          114            33.0               10.9

What Pacioretty manages with power and volume, Desharnais, for his part, accomplishes with guile and opportunism. For a player who averages a meek 1.23 shots per game in his career, the centerman is nevertheless a menace around the net because of his ability to carry the puck through traffic and getting as close to opposing goaltenders as possible before releasing a shot. A quick study of the above table indicates a clear relationship between shooting distance and shooting percentage. The correlation, which persists across players and seasons, would explain Desharnais’ remarkable 14.8% career shooting percentage. In the Canadiens’ recent history, only Mike Ribeiro comes close with a 14.7% career conversion rate. Incidentally, both players are deft stickhandlers and adept passer who rarely shoot (1.61 shots per game for Ribeiro).

Shooting: 2013-14 (5vs4, through 42 games)
Name               PPShots    Avg dist (ft)     13-14%
Galchenyuk       18            16.4                  11.1
Gallagher           19            19.6                  21.1
Plekanec            12            22.2                  25.0
Eller                     12            25.8                 16.7
Pacioretty            27           26.0                 

Furthermore, by examining shooting percentages on the man advantage, we see Pacioretty is well served by the additional time and space available when his team is on the powerplay. By releasing his deadly wrist shot just a couple of stick lengths closer to the enemy net, his success rate more than doubles. Meanwhile, Desharnais becomes even more intent on playing the set-up man at five-on-four. Through 42 games, he has only taken three shots on the PP from an average of 22.7 feet out, scoring on one of them.

Jack Han is a writer for

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