Square Pegs in Round Holes: Miscast Montreal Canadiens

As the trade deadline has come and gone, the Montreal Canadiens have struggled since the calendar flipped to the month of March. A horrible west coast swing saw the team be royally outplayed by San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles and they barely squeaked by the Arizona Coyotes. The team just hasn’t looked like themselves in the past few weeks. What has been glaringly apparent is the lack of offense and it’s due in part to the contrast to how this team is built and how it is taught to play.

(Photo: Andy Martin Jr)
(Photo: Andy Martin Jr)

Miscast Montreal Canadiens

The Habs are a fast and skilled group but with the way Michel Therrien coaches this team, it’s easy to think otherwise. Therrien has repeatedly said the Habs are a grinding team and they rely on dump and chase to execute plays in the offensive zone. With the Habs near the top of league, it hardly seems right to criticize Therrien considering how he helped turned this team around. But it’s at the point now where he is hurting the team with his stubbornness.

The Habs have the potential to be a puck possession team with the kind of players they have but too many players on this team have been miscast in roles not meant for them. P.A. Parenteau has struggled to score this season but his previous four seasons show him being a consistent point producer. Sitting him when offense is needed or putting him in the bottom six does not help him or the team.

Therrien likes players who grind and play solid defensive hockey but tends to reward those players with roles beyond their capabilities. Dale Weise and Brandon Prust are valuable players but too often Weise is Therrien’s go to for a top line winger while Prust has found himself on scoring lines at times. Lars Eller has struggled mightily this season but putting him on the wing is not a fit for him.

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Therrien’s Way

Jacob de la Rose is the sort of player Therrien likes and has found himself as the third line centre as a rookie. De la Rose has done a good job so far but it’s interesting that Therrien is more than willing to put the young Swede at centre ahead of the ultra talented Alex Galchenyuk. While Galchenyuk and de la Rose are vastly different players as Galchenyuk is expected to a top line centre, it just brings his development into question.

Both Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin have said repeatedly that the organization sees Galchenyuk as a centre but when? Watching such a highly skilled player being transformed into a grinding player is disheartening to watch and his confidence just isn’t there right now.

Galchenyuk looked really good playing centre alongside Max Pacioretty and while he went through a dry spell on offense at centre, it was nothing to be concerned about. When Galchenyuk gets the time and space to work with his skill, good things happen. Playing with an elite player like Pacioretty can only be a good thing for Galchenyuk. Pacioretty has become a very good two-way player, is excellent when it comes to puck possession and has emerged as a leader.

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On the blueline, Nathan Beaulieu is a player who likes to play offensive hockey and take risks, not unlike PK Subban at times. With the team struggling to score, it couldn’t hurt for Therrien to loosen the reins for Subban and Beaulieu to create more offense.  Both players have the skillset and with the way Carey Price is playing, why not take the extra risk? Subban’s defensive game has come a long way but there are times he can jump up into the rush and he chooses not to.

In previous years, he wouldn’t hesitate but it’s no secret how hard Therrien has worked to eliminate the risk in Subban’s game and it appears he is doing the same with Beaulieu. Beaulieu has the potential to be a good offensive defenceman down the road but you can tell by the way he plays, it is Therrien’s way or Beaulieu sits.

More to give

When looking up and down the Montreal Canadiens roster, the team has so much more to give. The team has players up front who have offensive capabilities but can be stifled by the team’s  dump and chase defensive hockey. The back end is made up entirely of puck movers with the exception of Alexei Emelin and Mike Weaver. The team may be winning right now but in the long term, the team can’t rely solely on Price to win them games. Players need to be in the right position to succeed so it’s time to stop force feeding certain players into roles not meant for them.