At the end of the regular season and in their first playoff round against the Lightning, the Canadiens’ fourth line was a strength. It was creating energy and, if not always scoring goals, then at least buzzing in the offensive zone.
Whether it was Michael Bournival, Daniel Brière and Dale Weise; or Brandon Prust, Ryan White and Weise, the fourth line was one where the players had an actual role (although it can be debated in Brière’s case) instead of being the line where slumping players end up. Praise was coming from everyone, including yours truly.
But things change quickly in the playoffs, and in the first two games of their series against the Bruins, the fourth line has become the spot to hide struggling skaters. In Game 1, Thomas Vanek had a few shifts on one of the oddest (and most expensive) fourth lines in memory, along with Brière and a returning Travis Moen.
In Game 2 it was Prust’s turn to be demoted, losing his spot on Tomas Plekanec’s left to the rookie Bournival, while Moen sat in the stands.
The influx of struggling players, along with the fact that Boston’s bottom-six forwards are miles ahead of Tampa Bay’s, has led to much quieter nights for the Glorieux’s fourth line.
This situation will force coach Michel Therrien to make some very interesting decisions ahead of Game 3 on Tuesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET. Prust is simply not the same player, visibly out of sync after playing only four regular-season games following the Olympic break.
Judging by his 7:29 of ice-time in Game 2 and his role at practice this week, he could be the player who spends the night on the Bell Centre’s magnificent press gallery, allowing Moen to get back in the lineup. Moen could play on Plekanec’s left side, a combination that Therrien likes to use when his team needs solid defence, as it now does after allowing eight goals in two games.
What remains to be seen is whether the Habs’ head coach will go ahead with this option, as Prust seems to be a very central piece of the team’s leadership group. Part of the job of managing a team is making sure the workplace remains a positive environment.
Markov makes impact
If Andrei Markov’s new agent, Sergei Berezin, wants to show general manager Marc Bergevin some tapes to boost his client’s value before he becomes a free agent this summer, the 4-on-3 power play that Montreal had in the second period Saturday is a must-see.
Therrien first sent a unit of Vanek, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and P.K. Subban onto the ice, with the latter two at the point. Stuck in an unfamiliar spot, Desharnais looked lost at times, and the man advantage wasn’t generating much in the way of chances.
Pacioretty then intercepted a clearing attempt, allowing Desharnais to change for Markov. About three "Mississippis" later, the veteran Russian started a passing play that led to Vanek redirecting a Subban pass behind Tuukka Rask for a goal.
Markov didn’t get credit for an assist on the play, but it seemed like his presence immediately gave a sense of stability to a 4-on-3 that couldn’t get much going.
Emelin building bad reputation?
Last March, when the Habs visited Boston, Milan Lucic was caught by TV cameras shoving his stick into Alexei Emelin’s private parts. Like any good heel in pro wrestling, Lucic performed the act behind the ref’s back, so no penalty was called.
There were calls from the Canadiens’ fan base for a suspension, which would’ve been a surprising decision, given that Lucic didn't appear to want to seriously injure the Hab defenceman. But the play was nevertheless dirty, and could have warranted a fine.
Lucic got away with it, and there were rumblings in hockey circles that Emelin’s reputation to embellish and oversell helped Lucic get the benefit of the doubt. (Three weeks later, Lucic would catch Red Wings rearguard Danny DeKeyser in the very same area, giving the league no option but to fine him.)
Fast-forward to Saturday’s first period. Boston’s Jordan Caron gets penalized for hooking Emelin, a play on which the Canadiens’ defenceman seemed to fall rather easily to the ice. You have to wonder if that kind of play is building a poor reputation for Emelin.
This week’s numbers
0 -- Number of fights in the first two games of the Bruins-Canadiens series, yet another reminder that the days of Pierre Bouchard and Stan Jonathan slugging it out are long gone. Fighting doesn't happen much in the post-season nowadays, as even the rugged Bruins have yet to engage in fisticuffs through seven games in the 2014 playoffs. “I don’t think anyone really wants to fight us,” said Dougie Hamilton when told of that stat Sunday.
8 -- Number of hits recorded on Max Pacioretty on Saturday. The Bruins had 34 total hits in that game, so almost a quarter of them were directed at the Habs sniper. Can you say marked man?
+5 -- Zdeno Chara’s rating in Game 2, making him only the fifth NHL player since 1998 to record that high a plus/minus rating in a playoff game. Even though he's been on the ice for Montreal’s four power-play goals in the series thus far, Chara is a force to be reckoned with at even strength.