Monday, September 30, 2013

The Montreal Canadiens Getting Ready for Season Opener... With a Few Questionable Calls

By: SHAWN LAVOIE (@SLavoie54)

Opening night is finally right around the corner, and the Montreal Canadiens are in the final stages of preparation to kick off the season at home against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here is how the lines look like:

Max Pacioretty
David Desharnais
Daniel Briere
Rene Bourque
Tomas Plekanec
Brian Gionta
Alex Galchenyuk
Lars Eller
Brendan Gallagher
Travis Moen
Brandon Prust
George Parros
Michael Bournival
Ryan White

Josh Gorges
P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov
Raphael Diaz
Jarred Tinordi
Francis Bouillon

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

If the lineup doesn’t change for tomorrow’s game, the team will feature a very balanced top-9 forward group and an extremely physical fourth line. The Pacioretty, Desharnais, and Briere line will be the line who will be most counted on to contribute offensively, with the EGG line as a secondary offensive line. Plekanec’s line will receive most of the defensive assignments while the bottom line will act as a support line. Obviously, Moen, Parros, and Prust will be counted on to swing momentum in the Habs’ favor with their physical play.

The defensive unit has a few question marks however. Gorges and Subban is a solid top pair. They can play in all situations, and should eat up a ton of minutes. Things look shaky after them though. Markov and Diaz isn’t the most reliable pairing. Markov isn’t a top level skater anymore, and Diaz isn’t the ideal partner for him. Diaz hasn’t had a great camp, and hasn’t shown that he can play top-four minutes yet. Tinordi and Bouillon are two defenders who usually play on the left side, so one of them will play on his off-wing. Therrien faces are real puzzle with his defensive corps early on this season with Emelin, Drewiske, and Murray now on the injured reserve list.

Moen-Prust-Parros as a Line, and Markov on Penalty Killing.... Really?

It is understandable that Therrien wants to have a line that can stand up against Toronto’s tough guys, but at the expense of using an actual center on the fourth line? Prust is not a natural center. Yes, he’s already been used their a few times, but he can’t win face-offs as regularly as White or Bournival, who are both natural centers.

If the coaching staff wants to have a physical bottom line so badly, why not us Ryan White at center? He’s an extremely physical player, and he will fight anybody, like he showed by fighting Chris Neil twice against the Senators during pre-season. It is okay to use Parros as he can take care of the fisticuffs if need be, and Prust is indispensible. So why not scratch Moen and dress an actual center? Only the Habs’ coaching staff knows.

Another questionable decision is having Andrei Markov on the penalty killing team instead of Subban. Honestly, why? Why not use the Norris trophy winner on the penalty killing? Why not use the player who was one of the team’s best penalty killers two seasons ago instead of the player who obviously has lost a step and ran out of gas at the end of last season? Again, only the coaching staff knows.

If Therrien wants to maximize his assets and give himself the best chance to win, he will need to use a natural center on his fourth line and use Subban on the penalty killing instead of Markov. The Russian rearguard should now be used as a power play specialist from now on. He shouldn’t see more than 20 minutes a night, while Subban should see 25+ minutes per game, like other elite defensemen. Not using Subban in every situation is a complete lack of logic and hurts the team.

As for the lack of natural center on the fourth line, this is the perfect example of a coaching staff concentrating more on gooning up rather than putting the best team on the ice. It is okay to use an enforcer like Parros when you’re facing a big physical team with a few fighters in their lineup, but you can’t sit down your natural centers and use three wingers to have a tougher team. Even worse, Moen was used at center during a few exercises during practice. This defies any sense of logic and reason. Moen has never played center during his career. Would you seriously want to have Moen take a faceoff? Even if Therrien is smart enough to not use Moen at center, who would you rather have take a faceoff, Prust or White?

Despite all this, the Montreal Canadiens will show up tomorrow with good chances to win. They have the better offense and the better goaltender heading into the game. The Leafs have a better defense, but in the end the Canadiens’ balanced attack should be able to win the game, as long as the team stays disciplined. 


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