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Analyze This: Habs Tatar shows he s the big fish in trade with Vegas

Analyze This: Habs  Tatar shows he s the big fish in trade with Vegas
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Despite their lack of superstars, the Canadiens’ ability to play within head coach Claude Julien’s system is the main reason why they’re in a dogfight to qualify for the playoffs, even though the vast majority of pundits and fans predicted a bottom-five finish.

Consequently, several Canadiens are enjoying career highs in various offensive categories.

Whether it’s Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher , Andrew Shaw, Phillip Danault, Jordie Benn, Brett Kulak, Joel Armia, Jeff Petry, Carey Price or even Artturi Lehkonen , there’s been an endless stream of individual accomplishments when it comes to the Canadiens’ 2018-19 season. Even Jonathan Drouin is verging on career highs in offensive production.

But there’s one player in particular who has caught my eye this season. Not only because he set a career high in points, with 58 so far, but also due to his all-around fantastic play.

Tomas Tatar has been a force for the Canadiens since the Max Pacioretty trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, which saw the winger unceremoniously thrown into the deal.

Vegas begged the Canadiens to take on Tatar’s contract, which has two more years left with a cap hit of US$5.3 million per season. What seemed like a reasonable request at the time — especially because the value of a prospect like Nick Suzuki and the additional second-round draft pick involved in the deal — has turned into a blessing in disguise for the Canadiens.

Tatar hasn’t just been good, he’s verging on elite.

Although he only ranks No. 15 among NHL left-wingers in points this season, there’s a lot more to his game than raw point totals.

We’re not going to punish Tatar for the Canadiens’ pitiful power play, rather we’re going to focus on 5-on-5 production, which levels the playing field.

With 48 points in 5-on-5 situations, Tatar ranks No. 5 among NHL left-wingers this season, tied with Boston’s Brad Marchand and only one point behind Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin. He’s well ahead of such star players as Jamie Benn of Dallas, Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog and even Pacioretty. When we include every NHL forward in the equation, Tatar still ranks among the top 20.

His 5-on-5 production has seen a significant uptick this season in goals and in primary assists.

But that’s not enough to declare him a borderline elite player. For that, we must examine his impact on the Canadiens in controlling shots and goals.

Once again, Tatar’s numbers have risen significantly. But this time around, they’re among the best in the NHL.

Only two players have controlled a higher percentage of the shots during their shifts this season, Carolina centre Jordan Staal and San Jose defenceman Erik Karlsson. Tatar also ranks eighth overall in controlling high-danger shots.

Tatar is second overall in the NHL in terms of how many goals his team controls while he’s on the ice, ahead of Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby. On average, the Canadiens score 3.45 goals per 60 minutes during his shifts and allow just 1.75 goals against.

Simply put, when Tatar’s on the ice, the Canadiens aren’t just controlling the play, they’re flat out dominating their opponents.

Of course, context is key, which is why we must mention that Tatar is playing with two excellent linemates in Gallagher and Danault. But we also can’t ignore the assignment that line is given on a nightly basis, which is to shut down the opposing team’s elite forwards. Not only is Tatar enjoying a great season, he’s doing it while facing the best players in the NHL.

His defensive play, particularly in the neutral zone, has led to a deluge of scoring chances for the Canadiens. In many ways, he epitomizes Julien’s favourite strategy , which involves turning defensive plays into offensive opportunities. And Tatar’s statistics suggest that his level of play is entirely sustainable.

He won’t win any awards this season, but you can make a legitimate argument that Tatar has been one of the most important players on this team — possibly even a dark horse most-valuable-player candidate for the Canadiens.

Marc Dumont is an analyst and editor for The Athletic Montreal.

(All statistics are via NaturalStatTrick.com and 5-on-5 unless otherwise specified.)
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