Skip to main content

Canadiens' Therrien mulls difficult lineup decisions

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- It is a dilemma any coach would love to have, and one Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien is in no hurry to solve.

The Canadiens were back on the ice Friday following two days off since completing a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round.

With the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a week away, Therrien and his staff will have enormous amounts of time to prepare for either the Boston Bruins or the Detroit Red Wings, the two possible opponents for the Canadiens.

The Bruins lead their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against the Red Wings 3-1 with Game 5 set for Saturday at TD Garden (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).

McCarthy: Canadiens can use time off to advantage

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, enlisted the help of longtime NHL assistant/associate coach Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy played in more than 500 NHL games with the
Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins, then spent a decade as an assistant and associate coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was a member of the staff that led them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He joined the Flyers as an assistant during the 2009-10 season and stayed in Philadelphia until October 2013.

With the Canadiens sweeping the Eastern Conference First Round series, McCarthy examines how Montreal will handle its time off.

Though no NHL team would ever turn down the opportunity to rest during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an extended layoff like the one the Montreal Canadiens have can be a major challenge for a coaching staff.

But according to Kevin McCarthy, this should not pose too great a problem to Montreal coach Michel Therrien, thanks in part to what he considers to be a strong core of leaders who won't let the Canadiens' focus waver.

"It's a real fine line," McCarthy told "To make it simple, if someone offered me more time off or less time, I would take more time."

The change to a bracket playoff system this year helps the Canadiens as they await their Eastern Conference Second Round opponent because they already know it will be the Boston Bruins or the Detroit Red Wings. In the past it could have been any number of teams because of the reseeding that used to take place after each round.

Not only will the new format allow the Canadiens to focus on their video work, McCarthy said, it will allow Therrien and his staff to begin making certain system-based adjustments to combat each potential opponent. The extra time off will allow the Canadiens to work on situations teams don't get to devote much time to in practice under normal circumstances, such as 6-on-5 or 6-on-4 scenarios.

"They can do a little more detailed stuff in practice," McCarthy said. "So it's really to their advantage to have this extra time."

The downside is that the Canadiens' two potential opponents should be sharp after an intense playoff battle while Montreal sits at home.

"That's the toughest thing as a coach, because you can't duplicate the desperation of the playoffs in practice," McCarthy said. "But you try to create drills that replicate it as best you can."

As the Canadiens get closer to resuming competition, Therrien will need to make decisions when it comes to the lineup. Forward Travis Moen is recovered from the concussion that kept him out of the first round, and forward Alex Galchenyuk could return from a lower-body injury.

McCarthy suggested that, considering the success the existing lineup had, it would be a good idea for Therrien to consult with some of his more trusted players before deciding on any changes.

"The chemistry of your team is so important this time of year, so you don't want to upset that," McCarthy said. "But the players in the room know which lineup gives them the best chance of winning. So I'm sure the coaching staff will sit down with their leadership group and eventually come up with the best lineup possible."

-- Arpon Basu

The dilemma for Therrien is what to do with a Canadiens lineup that remained unchanged throughout the series against the Lightning but in some ways was constructed to face that specific team.

If the Canadiens were to face the Bruins, a more physical team that plays a disciplined, defensive style of hockey, Therrien will need to decide whether to tailor his lineup or to stick with the group that performed so well in the first round.

Prior to facing Tampa Bay, Therrien said rookie forward Michael Bournival and veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon were in the lineup because their mobility would be of good use against the speedy Lightning.

Therrien was not ready to say whether he will use the same philosophy of setting his lineup based on his opponent in the next round.

"Honestly, I'm not there yet. So I can't answer that," Therrien said after practice Friday. "I loved the effort the players we put on the ice gave us, and they deserve a lot of credit for the fact we've reached this stage."

That's not to say changes won't necessarily be coming, just that Therrien is not sharing those plans as of yet. There are a few variables that may play into those decisions.

The first is the health of forward Travis Moen, who was cleared to play earlier this week after recovering from a concussion he sustained in a fight with Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller on March 24. Moen is a veteran presence with 73 games of playoff experience who can kill penalties and bring a physical element to the lineup.

Moen would normally slot in on Therrien's fourth line, except the fourth line of Daniel Briere with Dale Weise and Bournival was so effective against Tampa Bay it would be difficult to justify breaking it up, let alone scratching one of those players.

Though Therrien was not prepared to answer how he will solve the problem, he made it clear it is a problem he likes having.

"This is a big plus," Therrien said of Moen's health. "He's a big body, he can kill penalties, he's got experience, he's won a Stanley Cup (in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks). I see it as a plus more than a difficult decision. It's always tough to take somebody out, so we're not quite sure where we're going right now."

Moen said he hasn't thought of the possibility of getting back in the lineup in the second round and admitted it's not going to be easy considering how convincingly the Canadiens dispatched the Lightning.

"I'm just going to be a good teammate and hopefully get in the lineup," Moen said. "The way the team played, they're playing real well. That's something you'll have to ask the coaching staff, but I'm feeling good and ready to get in the lineup."

Defenseman Douglas Murray is in a similar position to Moen.

Murray lost out on the competition for Bouillon's spot in the lineup because he doesn't list quickness as one of his strongest assets. But he can be a physically intimidating player and was in the lineup all four times the Canadiens played the Bruins this season.

Murray doesn't deny drawing the physical Bruins in the second round would make it more likely he gets to play.

"I don't think that's a secret," Murray said. "But again, we're undefeated so far. A lot of times you don't change a winning formula, so we'll see what happens."

Another variable for Therrien to consider is the health of forward Alex Galchenyuk, who has been out since April 9 with a lower-body injury.

The initial timeline the Canadiens released on Galchenyuk was that he would miss the first round of the playoffs. Therrien said Friday it is possible Galchenyuk will be recovered in time to play in the second round, but no precise date is known for his return. The one tangible thing Therrien said about Galchenyuk is that he has not begun skating yet.

A week ago, reinserting Galchenyuk into the lineup would have been a no-brainer, with Rene Bourque seemingly holding a place for him in the lineup. But Bourque exploded once the playoffs began, sharing the Canadiens lead with Brendan Gallagher with three goals in four games and leading the NHL in shots on goal prior to games Friday with 22.

The line of Bourque, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta was Montreal's most productive in the first round with six goals, so breaking it up to make room for Galchenyuk wouldn't make much sense.

Another possibility would be for Galchenyuk to replace Brandon Prust on left wing of the line with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. That, however, poses the same problem as inserting Moen in that shifting Prust to the fourth line means one of its current members would have to be scratched.

"I don't have to make a decision for tomorrow morning," Therrien said.

No, if there is one thing Therrien has in abundance, it is time. He has time to study all the lineup possibilities available to him for the second round, time to study the Bruins and Red Wings, time to work on special teams, time to allow his banged-up players to heal.

He also has time for his Canadiens to get rusty, but Therrien is confident he and his staff will not allow that to happen.

"We've got to take this time to make sure it will be to our advantage," he said. "And we will."

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.