PITTSBURGH – In a league where teams are essentially even and parity is king, being able to count on a solid fourth line is a luxury.
Fortunately, it’s a luxury that Michel Therrien is enjoying right now given the results the line of Devante Smith-Pelly, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn has produced early on this season. Their success as a unit of three has even forced their bench boss’ hand. He admits that although he would have liked to give newcomer Paul Byron the opportunity to make his Canadiens debut against the Senators on home turf in Ottawa, he couldn’t afford to take Smith-Pelly, Mitchell or Flynn out of the lineup given how effective they’ve been together.
Therrien clearly made the right choice, as the Canadiens’ fourth line gave the Senators fits all game long on Sunday night. They even chipped in on offense, starting a sequence that let to Mitchell lighting the lamp with the insurance marker. The line also combined to generate nine of the Canadiens’ 34 shots on rookie goaltender Matthew O’Connor.
“They’re a big part of the success we’re having right now. Not only did they score, but they also went up against the top lines,” explained Therrien, referencing just how efficient his energy line has been through three games this season. “It’s a huge advantage for any team to have guys capable of playing against top players. They also spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. It’s a big part of our depth up front.”
That being said, fourth-line players league-wide – as critical as they are – often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being uncertain about their playing status on any given night.
“As a fourth line player, you have to work hard, be solid, and be responsible every game. There’s always someone there waiting to take your place,” explained Mitchell, who scored his first career regular season goal in a Canadiens uniform on Sunday night. “It’s our line that will be the one that changes if things aren’t going well during the year. We can’t allow ourselves to take a night off. I think we’ve done good work so far in the three games we’ve played.”
Like Mitchell, Flynn has a similar philosophy when it comes to the mentality fourth-line players need in order to succeed in their respective roles.
“Regardless if there’s someone pushing behind you or not, you have to perform and play well every game. If you don’t do the work, they could call on somebody else,” offered Flynn, who registered six shots of his own on Sunday night, the most of any single player on either team. “It’s not a problem. No matter who is left aside, we have players capable of doing what needs to be done.”
For now, the players delivering the goods just happen to be them.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
A special win
The Numbers Game: October 11, 2015
Something special brewing