First on puck equals first in goals
Recovering loose-pucks in the offensive-zone is a key ingredient in creating offense. Loose-pucks can be recovered following a dump-in, after a shot on-net, and even after a shot wide-of-the-net. Being the first player on the puck allows teams to maintain puck-possession in the offensive-zone. Maintaining possession allows teams to engage the cycle, and engaging the cycle is a large part of every NHL teams' offensive-game.
At the moment, the Habs most productive line of Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais is the only line truly built for the cycle game. That said, when reviewing the Canadiens season, there is a direct correlation between the number of pucks recovered in the offensive-zone, the number of shots on net, and the number of goals scored. The Canadiens have won only 1 game when they have recovered less than 50 loose-pucks in the offensive-zone, and have recovered more than 65 loose-pucks in the offensive-zone in every game where they've scored 3 or more goals.
The below graph is a visual representation of the average number of loose-pucks each Montreal Canadiens player recovers each minute they are on the ice. The event is broken down by ice-time in order to make the results easier to understand, and compare. Only events taking place at even-strength are used in this calculation. Each colour on the graph represents a different zone. Our focus here is the offensive-zone (green).
Max Pacioretty recovers the most offensive-loose pucks per-minute played. Pacioretty recovers 0.41 loose-pucks per-minute of ice-time. Expressed differently, this shows that if Pacioretty plays 15 minutes at even-strength in one game, he will recover 6 loose-pucks in the offensive-zone. By extension, this means that Pacioretty allows the Canadiens to maintain puck-possession in the offensive-zone (after a shot or dump-in) more often than any other player.
Other players that recover more than 0.30 loose-pucks in the offensive-zone per-minute of ice-time include, Scott Gomez (0.33), Rene Bourque (0.37), Andrei Kostitsyn (0.32), Mathieu Darche (0.32), Ryan White (0.38), Aaron Palushaj (0.35), Louis Leblanc (0.32), Erik Cole (0.32) and Lars Eller (0.34).
Obviously, recovering loose-pucks in only the first step toward creating offense. The next requirement is for the player recovering the puck to maintain puck-possession.
The below graph is a visual representation of each Montreal Canadiens player's success-rate for plays that occur when they have puck-possession in the offensive-zone. Plays included in this calculation only take place at even-strength, and include; passes, dekes and shots on net. The number expressed is the success-rate of each player when attempting either of these 3 plays in the offensive-zone.
Combining the two graphs it is easy to understand that if Pacioretty recovers more loose-pucks in the offensive-zone, and is successful with a higher percentage of attempted plays once in possession of the puck, he should create more offense than other players (and he does!). If Kostitsyn and Bourque recover fewer pucks, and are less successful once in possession of the puck, they will create less offense (and they do!).
The cycle starts with a single loose-puck. (Sorry, couldn't help myself)