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Therrien again shuffles Canadiens' forward lines

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

TAMPA -- The one constant with the Montreal Canadiens this season has been the presence of change.

In spite of being the healthiest team in the NHL, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien has been shuffling his forward lines all season in an effort to find a combination that can produce offense on a consistent basis.

There has not been a single time this season that Therrien needed offense more than he does now.

So the line-shuffling machine will be put to use once more when the Canadiens attempt to get their first win of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We're always looking for results," Therrien said after practice Tuesday. "If the result offensively isn't there, you're always searching for a solution. [Wednesday] won't be any different. We've got to find a solution to be more successful offensively."

The Canadiens have scored five non-empty-net goals in their past five games and have lost four of them. This is hardly anything new; the Canadiens were the lowest-scoring team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and finished 20th in the NHL with 2.61 goals per game.

That average would probably suit the Canadiens just fine right about now, but they are nowhere near it in the playoffs at 1.88 goals per game.

"We've had a lot of success with different combinations this year, and when things don't go well, when things go stale, we tend to see things get changed up," Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said. "But I think at the end of the day, when guys are feeling good about themselves and guys are on top of their game, they probably have combinations or duos they probably like to stick with."

Things have most definitely gone stale for the Canadiens, and there were changes to reflect that at practice Tuesday.

Therrien moved Dale Weise off the top line with Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec to place him on the right wing of a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller, removing Brendan Gallagher from that line to take the spot Weise filled in Game 2. The line of Eller, Gallagher and Galchenyuk being together for Game 2 created an immediate buzz on social media among Canadiens fans, who had long wanted the line reunited after it had a strong stretch together early last season.

It looks as though it lasted one game.

"Honestly, for us, it doesn't matter much," Gallagher said. "Personally, I'm comfortable playing with anyone on the team. Your jobs are the same, our systems are the same, your role doesn't change. It's playing the same way, just mixing guys to get different results and different matchups. Especially in the playoffs, matchups are so important and you're trying to do whatever you can do to get an advantage."

Pacioretty's 37 goals were tied for fifth in the NHL in the regular season, and he scored them without a set line. He spent most of his time at 5-on-5 in the regular season with David Desharnais, but has played with Plekanec for the most part in the playoffs. He mentioned the importance of matchups to justify all the juggling and said his role is different than other top scorers in the NHL who might benefit from having a consistent linemate, if not two.

"[Plekanec's] role has always been to be a two-way guy. I think when I play with him, that's my goal as well, to outplay their matchup and play well defensively and play well on the penalty kill, but most importantly outplay our matchup." Pacioretty said. "Our line shouldn't be judged based on, well I guess points, yeah, but you should look at the line we're playing against as well and see how we're playing against them. If our line's able to win that matchup, it gives our team a very good chance of winning the game. We haven't been able to do that so far this series."

Dale Weise
Right Wing - MTL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2
SOG: 16 | +/-: 3
If there is one player who has felt the brunt of Therrien's constant changes up front, it would be Weise. He has played every role imaginable for the Canadiens this season, from top-line right wing to fourth-line grinder and everything in between. His most common linemate in the regular season, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, was Pacioretty; Weise played 34.1 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes with him.

By comparison, Gallagher's most common linemate was Galchenyuk, and they spent 61.7 percent of their 5-on-5 regular-season minutes together.

"If you can find some lines that are working for you, that would be the ideal situation, for sure," Weise said. "If you get some lines that are clicking and are scoring some goals, then you ride it and you go with it. But right now, we're trying to find one and we don't have it.

"We're playing well defensively, but you're looking for that chemistry that's going to carry our team, and you look at our lines and it's hard to tell which line is which because we've got guys going everywhere. So it's hard to tell. So in an ideal situation, you'd like to have your lines set, but that's not what we're used to here."

In a sense, that versatility among forwards can be seen as an advantage in the playoffs. If an established, top-scoring line is being shut down in a playoff series, a coach will often be reluctant to break it up, and if he does, those players will need to make a major adjustment on the fly at the most important time of year.

The Canadiens will need to make no such adjustment because they've done this all season.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for creating chemistry between certain combinations of forwards, and that is something the Canadiens have not been able to find on a consistent basis.

"I'm not worried about that," Therrien said.

Clearly not.

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