Looking at Michel Therrien’s Questionable Coaching Decisions

A lot has been made about the Montreal Canadiens’ horrid month of December as the goal scoring has cratered to new lows. While the players have received their fair share of criticism, head coach Michel Therrien has taken a lot of heat in regards to his on-ice decisions. From accusations of favouritism to being too stubborn, Therrien has heard it all from Montreal fans, but just how questionable are his coaching decisions?

Discrepancy up front

When Montreal’s offence is struggling, Therrien’s first instinct is to put David Desharnais on the top line with captain Max Pacioretty. Both players have expressed how much they like playing together but the insistence they have amazing chemistry doesn’t hold much weight. When you picture duos with good chemistry, usually they are elite and put up excellent numbers. Pacioretty is elite but Desharnais is not. Desharnais was much better on the third line when he was matched up against easier competition but he simply does not have the chops to go up against the best centres the NHL has to offer.

The lack of right wing depth is not Therrien’s fault but consistently scratching Sven Andrighetto, one of the few creating any sort of offense during the slump in favour of grinders makes little sense. Therrien doesn’t control the pool of players he draws from but he is certainly in control of player usage and getting the best out of his players. One of the few bright spots has been the play of the Lars Eller-Alex Galchenyuk-Daniel Carr line. They consistently show up and Galchenyuk is currently Montreal’s best centre but Therrien hasn’t seemed to notice.

There is absolutely no reason that players like Desharnais and Dale Weise play more minutes than Galchenyuk, who is tied for second (with PK Subban) in team scoring with 25 points. Only Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec have more with 28 points each. Galchenyuk has his moments where his youth shines through but his offensive game is the best among the team’s centres and his defense and face-off ability have come a long way. He manages to put numbers in such a limited role. It’s hard to picture another NHL team giving Desharnais more minutes than Galchenyuk. Playing Galchenyuk more is Montreal’s best chance at winning but the continued insistence on giving Desharnais a ton of ice time is not the move of a team that aspires to go deep in the playoffs.

Questionable on the back end

On defence, Alexei Emelin is a beneficiary of Therrien being behind the bench. He consistently has defensive lapses but still gets plenty of minutes. The second Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn make a mistake, chances are they are stapled to the bench. Emelin brings a physical element to the table but he is a liability out there. Even Tom Gilbert has more than his share of defensive lapses but still gets his ice time.

Putting Tinordi and Pateryn out there instead of Emelin and Gilbert would make this team better. They will make mistakes but they have upside and it is a waste of their development to sit in the press box game after game. Last night, Pateryn and AHL call-up Mark Barberio played while Emelin was a healthy scratch and the Habs won the game. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But the defense corps did look faster without Emelin.

Therrien & Bergevin

Therrien is a coach that does well when he first starts with a team. He did a nice job of taking a Montreal team that finished third last in the league in 2012 to a playoff spot the next year with a defensive system the players bought into. However, the holes in his system started to show. Goaltender Carey Price was leaned on more and more. PK Subban’s offensive game was reigned in as dump and chase hockey become a staple for a Montreal team.

General manager Marc Bergevin has given his full confidence to Therrien for now but if the team has trouble finding itself until Brendan Gallagher and/or Carey Price comes back, both men will have to do something to kick start the offense. The team had a promising win in Tampa but they still have much more to give.