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Bottoms up

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
BROSSARD – With the holidays fast approaching, the Habs’ depth at the forward position has been a welcome present for head coach Michel Therrien.

Through 31 games, the Canadiens have gone 19-9-3, one of the franchise’s best starts to a season since the last dynasty of the late seventies. Like the squads that hoisted Stanley Cups under Scotty Bowman, the current edition of the Canadiens can count on a group of unsung heros to anchor the lower-half of the depth chart.

“Our fourth line has been very responsible on both ends of the ice. They’re spending a lot of time in the offensive zone recently and we can count on them defensively,” acknowledged Therrien, who, at various times over the past week, has entrusted Brandon Prust, Ryan White, Travis Moen, George Parros and Michael Bournival to play these all-important minutes.

The same mindset was applied decades ago by Bowman, the most successful coach in NHL history. During his tenure, the Hall-of-Famer shuffled players such as Doug Risebrough, Pierre Larouche, Mark Napier and Rick Chartraw in and out of the fourth forward line, depending primarily on their opponents and on the players’ effort level at practice. You couldn’t argue with the results then, and with the Habs nearly pacing the Eastern conference in points this season, there’s not much to say about the same approach now.

“I think we have a great makeup on the fourth line,” stated Parros, who has dropped the gloves on seven occasions this season despite missing time with a concussion suffered in the season-opener against the Maple Leafs. “It was a rocky start for me, but it’s been good to get back into the lineup and get some wins.”

White, who is no stranger no physical play himself, also chimed in on the subject of the Canadiens’ depth in the physicality department.

“With Parros and Douglas Murray this season, we’re a bigger team, so that’s helped us quite a bit against some teams. Guys like Moen and Prust, too, have been stepping in and taking care of business,” suggested White.

While it’s a plus for a coaching staff to have a variety of contributors to choose from, it also means that every game, one player worthy of suiting up will be watching from the press box.

“There’s a lot of competition for the spots on the fourth line, but we all want the best for one another. It’s tough when you’re not playing, but it’s tough when a buddy’s not playing, either,” admitted White, who has sat out six games thus far this year. “Obviously I want to play and I want to help the team, but at the same time it’s nice to feel good about yourself and getting better even when you’re not playing.  Having to fight for your spot in the lineup at practice is something that can help your game.”

Parros also talked about the challenge of being ready to go when called upon, even when not dressing on a regular basis.

“There’s not much to do except to work hard and keep doing what got you here. You have to be a good influence around the rink even when you’re not playing and just wait your turn until you get back into the lineup,” offered the hulking winger.

With a game against the Los Angeles Kings on the horizon, Therrien will look over his notes in order to put together a line which figures to give his team the best chance of winning.

“These are guys who are difficult to play against, who play within our system. As far as I’m concerned, I consider it a luxury to be able to have this kind of a fourth line,” mentioned the Habs bench boss, who can create a speedy, disruptive presence by uniting Moen or Prust to White and Bournival, or ice one of the most physically intimidating lines in the NHL by putting Parros alongside Moen and Prust. “Tuesday is another challenge. We approach each game with an open mind. If we see players who are at the top of their games, we’ll give these players more opportunities. My responsibility as a coach to put the best players on the ice and win hockey games. It’s as simple as that.”

Jack Han is a writer for

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