BROSSARD – Head coach Michel Therrien shuffled his lines in the aftermath of a three-game winless streak, while also resetting expectations for three natural centermen.
When the Habs dropped a 3-2 shootout decision on Tuesday night to the St. Louis Blues, they played without David Desharnais, who was confined to the press box as a healthy scratch. After only putting up a one assist in 15 games alongside a slew of linemates, Therrien decided to sit Laurier-Station, QC native out for a night.
“It did me some good to sit out a game out and refocus,” acknowledged the 27-year-old pivot, who worked his way up from the ECHL after going undrafted. “It reminded me how lucky I am to be here and how much I want to be back in the lineup. I’m putting pressure on myself for sure. It’s up to me to earn back the trust of the coaching staff.”
On Thursday, Desharnais, who is looking to return to his 60-point form of two seasons ago, will be back in the Habs’ lineup accompanied by wingers Rene Bourque and rookie sensation Michael Bournival.
“[Bournival] has shown great things so far. It’s easy to play with a guy like that, who keeps things simple,” mention the veteran centerman.
Now faced with an overabundance of experienced players down the middle, the Habs bench boss made more changes, shifting sophomore playmaker Alex Galchenyuk back to left wing and reuniting him with Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher. Galchenyuk’s stint at center was short-lived, but Therrien believes that the dynamic forward has what it takes to move to the middle permanently in due time.
“It’s a process which we can’t force. For us, it’s very important not to hurt the player by rushing him into a situation,” explained Therrien, who oversaw the development of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during his time in Pittsburgh. “When Galchenyuk is on the ice with Gallagher, we can see that the opposing team is forced to make quick changes and bring out their two best defensemen to try to shut them down. We’re talking about a nineteen year-old kid here. That’s what I retain, seeing how much attention he is attracting at this young age. When the moment is right this season, we’ll put him back at center.”
One player who understands the head coach’s reasoning is Galchenyuk’s usual set-up guy, Lars Eller, who finally made his transition from wing to center at the start of this season after a three-year apprenticeship.
“The centerman probably has more responsibilities than anyone else on the ice, except the goalie,” insisted Eller, who has five goals and four assists so far in 2013-14. “You’re a big part of the offence and the defence. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of experience to be successful. Reading the play, setting up your linemates, playing within the system; anticipating where everyone is going to go. It’s read and react.”
On the injury front, good news awaited the team at the conclusion of practice.
“Travis Moen will play tomorrow, which I am very happy about. He will give us extra depth up front and had been playing good hockey [before his injury],” divulged Therrien. “Daniel [Briere] will come to Ottawa with us, and practice with his teammates for the first time since his injury. Brandon Prust is also following the protocol and he’s on schedule for his recovery. As for Alexei Emelin, he has been doing full-contact practices with his teammates, which is excellent news.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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