The Montreal Canadiens’ fourth line looked a lot more like their first line on Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
It was almost a case of what could have been for the Canadiens on the night. One minute and three seconds into the first period, captain Max Pacioretty was robbed of his ninth goal of the season when Canucks’ goalie Anders Nilsson, who was sitting on the ice, miraculously spread his glove hand just enough to keep the puck out of the net. The play could not have epitomized the season more perfectly. Unable to capitalize on their opportunities, another long night seemed inevitable. Luckily for the Canadiens, however, the team’s best line, comprised of Daniel Carr, Byron Froese, and Nicolas Deslauriers, had other plans.
Much Needed Scoring Touch
Down 1-0 in the first period after former Hab Thomas Vanek muscled his way to the front of Carey Price’s net to bury a rebound on the Canucks’ second power play of the opening frame, the Canadiens’ needed a quick response. Five minutes later, on the man-advantage, Carr redirected a Charles Hudon wrist shot from the blue-line to tie the game at one. It was all that was needed to spark the goal-starved Canadiens, as they carried the momentum to a 7-5 win on the first stop of their trip to the western-coast of Canada.
“When they’re able to chip in, it obviously gives us a huge advantage in the game,” said Pacioretty after the victory. “Not only were they able to chip in, they were able to come up with big goals. “
“That gets the team going and it gives us an opportunity to win the game,” added Pacioretty.
In total, the fourth line combined for three goals and seven points against Vancouver. Deslauriers, who was traded to the Canadiens from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Zack Redmond on Oct 4, led the way with two goals and one assist. Known mostly for his rough and rowdy playing style prior to joining the Canadiens, the Lasalle-native has proven he’s much more than a tough guy who began the year in the American Hockey League. While the transaction seemed like a minor one at the time, it has become more and more evident each game how important it really was.
“Personally, I don’t think we had the best first period as a line. We knew we had to wake up,” said Deslauriers in French. “We’re a line that works hard. If we have a bad shift, we know we have to put on our working boots and be better. That’s what helped us tonight.”
Becoming Full-Time NHL Players
No one could have ever predicted the amount of success the trio is currently having. As players who have spent most of their careers on the fringe of playing in the National Hockey League full-time, Froese, Carr, and Deslauriers have found the chemistry needed to firmly establish themselves in the Canadiens lineup. Carr, who has shown an ability to score in his shorts stints in Montreal before this season, is tied for second on the team with three goals since being called up from the Laval Rocket on Nov 29. He has also earned a role on the power play, averaging just over a minute of ice time per game.
“I think our line is doing some good things. We all have similar identities in our game, so we read well off each other,” said Carr. That helps us get pucks in. We know where each other is going to put the puck and that’s why we’ve had such success as a line.”
The play of Froese cannot be understated, either. Prior to signing with the Canadiens as an unrestricted free-agent on July 1, the 26-year old centre had spent time in the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leaf organizations. He provides a stable, two-way style of play that makes his linemates much more effective. Playing alongside Froese, both Carr and Deslauriers have a substantially higher Corsi-For percentage at even strength (CF%). With Froese, Carr’s percentage is 49.65, while Deslauriers’ is 45.54. Without Froese, they have a percentage of 35.48 and 34.88, respectively.
With the win, the Canadiens’ record stands at 15-15-4, with 34 points in the bank. Currently fourth in the Atlantic division and on the outside of the playoff picture, they’ll need all four lines producing at a high level. The post-season is anything but guaranteed for the team, but one thing that is certain, is a fourth line capable of matching up against any other in the NHL.
“They’re a pretty reliable line,” said head coach Claude Julien. “They deserve the accolades because they’re doing what they’ve been told to do, and it’s paying dividends for them, and for us.
I cover the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket for The Hockey Writers. I am currently a student at the University of Concordia studying journalism in the hopes of one day becoming a full-time sports reporter. I have previously covered the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League for Pro Football Spot.