Michel Therrien, the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, has made some interesting decisions behind the bench so far this season. With a record of 8-8-1 to start the season, the panic room certainly isn’t a place the Habs’ bench boss needs to be so early in the season.
From the onset of the season, certain lines worked very well. The Galchenyuk-Eller-Gallagher line came out of the gates like a prized stallion, providing plenty of excitement and production in this season’s infancy. However, due to the lack of production of his other trios, Therrien decided to break them up in an attempt energize his other wards.
Of course, there is the public display of distaste he showed 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, berating him for all of Habs Nation to see on 24CH. While it seems that Subban has responded well to the public criticism, it still remains a point of contention among many NHL analysts and fans alike, as has his continuous refusal to use
The “overuse” of defensman Francis Bouillon and seemingly eternally struggling centerman David Desharnais has led many to believe that Therrien has an affinity for “les gars de chez nous.” Wouldn’t “Cube” have been better served platooning with recently demoted defenseman Greg Pateryn in and out of the lineup? Pateryn can provide the secondary offensive push from the back end on the power play, and has the ability to play an aggressive defensive game.
Injuries certainly had a large part to play in their use so far this season, but we have seen recently, with the appearance of Desharnais in the press box, that his patience is running quite thin.
Regardless of the injury situation, or his use of certain players more than others, there are other issues at hand that have Canadiens’ fans questioning where Therrien is leading his team.
Therrien seems to have a propensity to use his fourth line too much after a goal is scored or coming out of a television time out. Granted, in most cases, your checking line is usually there to provide some energy when your team needs it to most, but lack of footspeed from players like Ryan White and George Parros are more of a crutch than a kick in the keester, especially given the combined -6 plus linus rating.
Over the first 20% of the season, we’ve seen the Canadiens refuse to drive the net throught the mid-ice lane. While having diminutive forwards is the root cause of the problem, players still need to engage the opposition’s defensemen. Continually playing around the perimeter without a single player in front of the net or in the high slot makes the Habs uni-dimensional offensively.
Mid-ice play and net drive force opposing player to pay closer attention to those players engaging them in the offensive zone, creating more open passing and shooting lanes to create offense. Is there a fear of injury plaguing the Canadiens’ players or has Coach Therrien instructed them to play that type of game to minimize the likelyhood of injury?
Then, there is their seemingly anemic power play, which doesn’t produce nearly as much offense as it is capable of. Under the watchful eye of assistant coach Clement Jodoin, the power play is rudimentary and simplistic. There is limited movement, and much of the offense is generated from behind the opposition’s goal line or along the half-wall between the hash marks and the goal line.
When two or more players engage the defensive team behind the net, your scoring options become very limited, Only the defensemen remain available for viable opportunities to shoot, oftentimes unable to wait for their forwards to disengage from the defense to take position in front of the net. Furthermore, depending solely on generating shots from the blue line is never a good way to conduct your offense.
Power play rotation is key to success, so no more than one forward should be behind the net unless support is required, in which case a second may come in to help. Creating odd-man situation that favour the defensive team while in possession of the puck on the power play is never successful.
Finally, maintaing possession of the puck, for a team as physically challenged as the Canadiens is paramount. Getting the puck back from bigger and stronger opponents is a daunting task. Instead of simply dumping the puck into the offensive zone, regrouping in the neutral zone, changing skating lanes and re-engaging the defense is the better option. As long as the Habs continue to use an up and down attack based on dump and chase hockey, their success will remain limited.
While in the midst of a four game losing streak, a coach’s mind is filled with limitless questions and scenarios. It remains to be seen how Michel Therrien and his staff deal with the situation, but the simple steps outlined above go a long way to providing some offensive variations.
Take a moment, reflect, and decide, but whatever you do Coach Therrien…
Stay away from the Panic Room !!!