Canadiens finally find effective 4th line
Head coach Michel Therrien praises work of Moen, Prust and Weise
Pro sports coaches may well be the smoothest liars in the world. And who can blame them?
Every time they open their mouth, they have the power to mould a city’s opinion on 20, 25 or 42 different individuals.
When they say something a tiny bit negative about a player, it comes across as criticism. When they praise a player, they raise expectations. When they take the bullet for the team and blame themselves, they sound desperate and fuel speculations of an imminent firing. When they say they’re out of resources, they’re calling out their general manager.
As one colleague once put it, referring to a former head coach who shall remain nameless, “Every time he starts a sentence with ‘The truth is’, you know there’s a lie coming.”
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien is no different than his colleagues. Sometimes, he has to hold back some of the facts. Sometimes, he has bend the truth. Sometimes, he breaks it into tiny pieces. And there’s nothing wrong with that because, as Dr. House said, "everybody lies". He’s getting paid by a hockey team to win games for that hockey team, not to be honest with the media.
That said, in Tuesday's post-game media conference following an impressive 6-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, Therrien did say something that sounded genuine and heartfelt.
“I trust my guys on the fourth line," he said. "They could play against top players."
Therrien was referring to Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and relative newcomer Dale Weise, who each scored a goal Tuesday, giving the Canadiens’ fourth line a hat trick equally impressive as Thomas Vanek’s trifecta.
Whether they were fluke goals or not -- Weise’s was into an empty net, plus he scored a big-time garbage goal Sunday in Buffalo -- the line also managed to spend entire shifts in the opposite zone, controlling the puck. It’s been a combination for three straight games, starting last Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.
In any event, we were miles away from this past November, when it seemed like other teams scored every time Montreal’s fourth line hit the ice. George Parros even went minus-5 during a four-game stretch in which he played a total of 16:46 minutes.Things were that bad.
Numbers don’t lie
Moen is no Denis Savard, despite taking a page from the former Chicago Blackhawks legend’s book when he beat Avalanche goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère on a spin-o-rama Tuesday. Prust will be the first to poke fun at his own limited offensive skills, while Weise has yet to show he can be as productive in the NHL as he was in the AHL.
However, all three players’ recent offensive numbers are as good as we’ve seen from fourth-liners in Montreal. Since the start of the shortened 2013 season, Moen has put up 18 points in 107 games, Weise has 21 in 95, while Prust, who was at times used on the third line as well, has 27 in 90.
Other players used on the fourth line since last season include Parros (three points in 58 games since January 2013), Ryan White (six points in 68 games), Colby Armstrong (playing in Sweden this season) as well as youngsters Michaël Bournival, Patrick Holland and Gabriel Dumont.
Health is obviously key here. Not only are Prust and Moen being held out of the Top 9 forwards, but third-liner Rene Bourque has been a healthy scratch for four straight games.
What remains to be seen is how long the Moen-Prust-Weise line will stand, as enforcer-laden Boston and Toronto are possible matchups for Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
In addition, Prust's health is always a question mark, and we were reminded of that when the Canadiens announced that he will be out for Thursday's game with an upper-body injury.
Therrien has often declared he feels having Parros in the lineup against more robust teams gives the Habs more “respect.” However, he shied away from using him in a recent game against Boston and rugged Bruins forward Milan Lucic had his way the whole night, mostly with defenceman Alexei Emelin.
The last 12 games will give Montreal time to find the right combination for the playoffs. But the one it has right now is as good as we’ve seen this season. Who would’ve thought trading Raphael Diaz to the Vancouver Canucks for Weise would have solved a problem?
This week’s numbers
11 – Centre David Desharnais’s point total in his last 10 games (two goals, nine assists). And look out… he’s catching fire with his new right-winger Thomas Vanek.
-8 – Centre Lars Eller’s frigid differential after eight games in March. At minus-16, he now owns the team’s worst differential this season. A year to forget for the big Dane, who had such a promising start.
4 – The Canadiens’ streak of games with more than 30 shots on goal, their longest such streak of the season. They have scored 14 goals over this period. Apparently, the fourth line isn’t the only one clicking.