BROSSARD – With road games in Buffalo and Toronto on the horizon for the Canadiens over the next three days, head coach Michel Therrien is looking forward to seeing if a few new line combinations can deliver on their responsibilities.
After surrendering a pair of second period goals to the Washington Capitals and trailing 3-1 heading into the final frame on Tuesday night, the Habs bench boss elected to rework his lineup to close out the tilt against the southeast division leaders. Despite the eventual 3-2 defeat, he liked what he saw from several of his troops, including Rene Bourque, who was making his first appearance for the Canadiens after missing 21 games with a concussion. The left-winger clearly found his stride as the contest wore on, and was re-introduced to early-season playing partners Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta in the third period.
“We thought it was a good time to change the lines,” confirmed Therrien ahead of the Canadiens’ departure for their fifth and final matchup of the season with the Sabres on Thursday night. “Bourque was used to playing with Plekanec and Gionta. We tried that during the game [against Washington] and Rene did well. We had to give him some time to get his confidence back and it was an opportune time [for the move]. We’ll continue with that going forward.”
Bourque too felt that re-establishing the Canadiens’ second-most used line combination on the season seemed like a perfect fit after an extended stint on the sidelines.
“It’s nice. I didn’t think I’d get moved up that quickly,” said the 31-year-old Lac La Biche, AB native. “I think [Michel] just wanted to change things up a little bit. We weren’t getting much going in the third period, so he just wanted to switch things up. And, it worked.”
That line alteration remained intact as the Canadiens skated at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday morning, as did Michael Ryder’s placement alongside Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, which paid dividends from the get-go on Tuesday night. The 23-year-old Dane notched his sixth goal of the season and second on the night against the Capitals to pull the Habs to within one goal late in the third period. Power forward Brandon Prust, meanwhile, found himself paired with Travis Moen and Jeff Halpern.
“I don’t know if [the line change] will be more effective,” said Eller, who has six goals and 21 points on the season. “It gives us a little bit of a different weapon. [Ryder] and Prust are two different players. Hopefully, we’re going to find other ways to score goals. We’ll see.”
Boasting the fifth highest goals for tally in the league with 119 markers on the season through 39 games, the Habs aren’t lacking in offensive productivity, but Therrien is adamant that tweaks and adjustments are an important part of ensuring both he and his players perform up to expectations as the postseason draws closer and the opposition becomes more desperate to accumulate points themselves.
“I’ve always believed in the importance of having balance in your forward lines. It’s a huge advantage…It’s one of our strengths and we have to exploit that strength,” praised Therrien, highlighting his club’s ability to roll three offensively gifted lines on a regular basis. “The depth and balance in our lineup is important to make it more difficult for our opponents to concentrate on only one line… I like the line combinations that I was able to establish. It’s the vision I had during the absence of several players. Now, everyone is healthy, and I’d like to move forward working on this.”
Having dropped the last three meetings with the Sabres since besting Buffalo 6-1 back in early February, and with a playoff berth in sight, Therrien will be looking for production from each of the newly formed lines come Thursday's tilt at First Niagara Center.
“The question isn’t whether we know if all of my lines are capable of contributing,” said Therrien. “They have to contribute. It’s the responsibility of each of the lines, and I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that everyone is doing their part.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room