PHILADELPHIA – After coming out flat against the Capitals on Thursday night in Washington, head coach Michel Therrien sensed he needed to switch things up on offense.
The veteran bench boss elected to shuffle the deck after an opening period in which his troops were outshot by a 15-2 margin, and the moves paid immediate dividends as the Canadiens quickly hit their stride en route to stealing two big points at the Verizon Center.
On Friday, Therrien put those newly formed lines to work in the City of Brotherly Love, looking to build upon the chemistry they’d displayed less than 24 hours earlier in Washington. Jiri Sekac skated on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk, while Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau assumed Sekac’s spot on a line with Lars Eller and Rene Bourque. Brendan Gallagher, meanwhile, lined up alongside David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, while the line of Brandon Prust, Manny Malhotra and Travis Moen remained intact.
While Therrien wasn’t prepared to divulge whether or not those would be the same lines that would go up against the Flyers on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, he didn’t shy away from discussing just how pleased he was to see those players who'd changed places respond with flying colors.
“I really like Sekac’s speed. He’s capable of making plays, and he’s making better decisions with the puck. That’s good news. He’s a guy that’s capable of making moves in-tight. I’ve really liked what he’s been able to create with Plekanec and Galchenyuk,” praised Therrien, who has been throroughly impressed by what the Czech forward has displayed in the veritable infancy of his NHL career. “It’s normal that there would be an adaptation period for him. At the start, you make decisions based on whether or not you think the player is capable of playing at the NHL level. He is definitely capable, and he’s already showcased some nice things.”
That was certainly the case in Sekac’s second career NHL game in the District of Columbia. The 22-year-old forward wasted little time using his quickness and size alongside Plekanec and Galchneyuk to give Capitals defenders fits through the neutral zone and deep in Washington territory.
“I feel pretty comfortable next to Pleky. I guess it’s going to be a big game for me against Philadelphia, and hopefully we’re going to be successful as a line and as a team,” mentioned Sekac, who will go in search of his first NHL point once again on Saturday night. “I feel pretty good out there. I’ve had a lot of ice time. I was pretty happy with that, and we won both games. We showed some character as a team, which was amazing. We didn’t start the game well against Washington, but we got back on the horse and won.”
While the Sekac-Plekanec-Galchenyuk line might be something new, Therrien’s move to bring Gallagher, Desharnais and Pacioretty back together is anything but. In short, it’s a line Therrien utilized more than any other in 2013-14 by a country mile, as the trio logged 595 minutes of total ice time.
“In Gallagher’s case, the line knows each other well. They’ve played together in the past. I’m aware of the fact that there’s chemistry there,” stressed Therrien, who believes Gallagher’s feistiness and grit will be a good addition to the creativity and scoring touch Desharnais and Pacioretty have showcased since the start of training camp. “I want to create a measure of equilibrium among all of the lines so we can be a constant threat on the ice.”
Enter Manny Malhotra, who, according to Therrien, will play a key role in establishing that balance and symmetry he’s looking for, particularly by taking some weight off of Plekanec’s shoulders.
“Malhotra’s arrival took some defensive responsibility away from Plekanec. He’s very solid defensively. I can use him against the opposition’s top lines and on important faceoffs,” explained Therrien, who has watched Plekanec score three goals in the Canadiens’ first two games of the 2014-15 campaign. “That was a part of Tomas’ responsibilities in the past, so it takes that off of his shoulders. We’re able to put him to work more on offense than in the past.”
That certainly won’t hurt against a Flyers lineup that boasts the likes of Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier, all of whom are perennial scoring threats.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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