Habs Bottom Pair Needs to Step Up

For the Montreal Canadiens, their defence has been two different stories. The top four of Shea Weber, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry have ranged from good to excellent. However, that hasn’t always been the case with the bottom defensive pairings. A lack of trust and overall struggles have plagued the fifth and sixth defencemen as players have rotated in and out of the lineup with minimal ice time.

Lack of Trust

For whatever reason, head coach Michel Therrien does not appear to have a ton of faith in defenceman Greg Pateryn. Like any player, Pateryn will make the occasional mistake but overall, he plays his role well as a fifth or sixth defenceman. However, Therrien won’t hesitate to sit Pateryn for games on end and often provides no apparent reason for it. That happened recently when Pateryn sat for a string of games in favour of American Hockey League call up Joel Hanley.

It is a decision that made little sense considering Pateryn was not playing poorly and Hanley’s play did not warrant him being in the lineup ahead of him. Even last season, Pateryn only played in 38 games as he languished in the press box and only got in the lineup when the season went downhill and the injuries piled up. Pateryn brings a solid physical presence to the Montreal lineup and can put up offense on the rare occasion.

YouTube player

More Consistency Needed

In the case of Nathan Beaulieu, he still looks like a player who hasn’t glued it all together yet. Beaulieu has his nights where he looks excellent; he is all over the ice, creating chances and playing solid defence. Other games, he loses focus far too easily and starts running around his own zone. When he was drafted, he was projected to be an offensive defenceman.

As of right now, it looks like Beaulieu won’t live up to that projection as he hasn’t shown much playmaking acumen while his shot is not accurate enough for him to be a goal scorer. The coaching staff seems hesitant to trust Beaulieu and Pateryn. When they make a mistake, they are often benched for it or given less ice time. Players need to know that they have the confidence of the coaching staff in case if they make a mistake, they won’t be punished every time.

Making things a little more interesting is the potential return of Zach Redmond. He had a very good training camp but an injury derailed it and he’s currently on an AHL conditioning stint, with an NHL call up likely in the near future. Redmond has shown in the past he can be a dependable depth defenceman and Therrien often shows a preference for veterans over younger and/or inexperienced players. Mark Barberio is also another player who could find his way in the lineup if the bottom pairings need a shake up or injuries hit.

Room for Improvement

While Beaulieu and Pateryn can continue to improve their games, the coaching staff is overdue to give them some leash when they play. All defencemen make mistakes, even the best of the best. Punishing players constantly can be detrimental to their confidence and even make them play worse because they are so afraid of making a mistake. As the season wears on, the bottom pairing needs to play more to keep from burning out the top players, especially in the playoffs.