Canadiens' Therrien mulls difficult lineup decisions

Friday, 04.25.2014 / 5:45 PM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- It is a dilemma any coach would love to have, and one Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien is in no hurry to solve.

The Canadiens were back on the ice Friday following two days off since completing a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round.

With the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a week away, Therrien and his staff will have enormous amounts of time to prepare for either the Boston Bruins or the Detroit Red Wings, the two possible opponents for the Canadiens.

The Bruins lead their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against the Red Wings 3-1 with Game 5 set for Saturday at TD Garden (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).

The dilemma for Therrien is what to do with a Canadiens lineup that remained unchanged throughout the series against the Lightning but in some ways was constructed to face that specific team.

If the Canadiens were to face the Bruins, a more physical team that plays a disciplined, defensive style of hockey, Therrien will need to decide whether to tailor his lineup or to stick with the group that performed so well in the first round.

Prior to facing Tampa Bay, Therrien said rookie forward Michael Bournival and veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon were in the lineup because their mobility would be of good use against the speedy Lightning.

Therrien was not ready to say whether he will use the same philosophy of setting his lineup based on his opponent in the next round.

"Honestly, I'm not there yet. So I can't answer that," Therrien said after practice Friday. "I loved the effort the players we put on the ice gave us, and they deserve a lot of credit for the fact we've reached this stage."

That's not to say changes won't necessarily be coming, just that Therrien is not sharing those plans as of yet. There are a few variables that may play into those decisions.

The first is the health of forward Travis Moen, who was cleared to play earlier this week after recovering from a concussion he sustained in a fight with Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller on March 24. Moen is a veteran presence with 73 games of playoff experience who can kill penalties and bring a physical element to the lineup.

Moen would normally slot in on Therrien's fourth line, except the fourth line of Daniel Briere with Dale Weise and Bournival was so effective against Tampa Bay it would be difficult to justify breaking it up, let alone scratching one of those players.

Though Therrien was not prepared to answer how he will solve the problem, he made it clear it is a problem he likes having.

"This is a big plus," Therrien said of Moen's health. "He's a big body, he can kill penalties, he's got experience, he's won a Stanley Cup (in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks). I see it as a plus more than a difficult decision. It's always tough to take somebody out, so we're not quite sure where we're going right now."

Moen said he hasn't thought of the possibility of getting back in the lineup in the second round and admitted it's not going to be easy considering how convincingly the Canadiens dispatched the Lightning.

"I'm just going to be a good teammate and hopefully get in the lineup," Moen said. "The way the team played, they're playing real well. That's something you'll have to ask the coaching staff, but I'm feeling good and ready to get in the lineup."

Defenseman Douglas Murray is in a similar position to Moen.

Murray lost out on the competition for Bouillon's spot in the lineup because he doesn't list quickness as one of his strongest assets. But he can be a physically intimidating player and was in the lineup all four times the Canadiens played the Bruins this season.

Murray doesn't deny drawing the physical Bruins in the second round would make it more likely he gets to play.

"I don't think that's a secret," Murray said. "But again, we're undefeated so far. A lot of times you don't change a winning formula, so we'll see what happens."

Another variable for Therrien to consider is the health of forward Alex Galchenyuk, who has been out since April 9 with a lower-body injury.

The initial timeline the Canadiens released on Galchenyuk was that he would miss the first round of the playoffs. Therrien said Friday it is possible Galchenyuk will be recovered in time to play in the second round, but no precise date is known for his return. The one tangible thing Therrien said about Galchenyuk is that he has not begun skating yet.

A week ago, reinserting Galchenyuk into the lineup would have been a no-brainer, with Rene Bourque seemingly holding a place for him in the lineup. But Bourque exploded once the playoffs began, sharing the Canadiens lead with Brendan Gallagher with three goals in four games and leading the NHL in shots on goal prior to games Friday with 22.

The line of Bourque, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta was Montreal's most productive in the first round with six goals, so breaking it up to make room for Galchenyuk wouldn't make much sense.

Another possibility would be for Galchenyuk to replace Brandon Prust on left wing of the line with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. That, however, poses the same problem as inserting Moen in that shifting Prust to the fourth line means one of its current members would have to be scratched.

"I don't have to make a decision for tomorrow morning," Therrien said.

No, if there is one thing Therrien has in abundance, it is time. He has time to study all the lineup possibilities available to him for the second round, time to study the Bruins and Red Wings, time to work on special teams, time to allow his banged-up players to heal.

He also has time for his Canadiens to get rusty, but Therrien is confident he and his staff will not allow that to happen.

"We've got to take this time to make sure it will be to our advantage," he said. "And we will."

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