Based on the lines used at Montreal Canadiens practice today, it appears defenseman Nathan Beaulieu will be playing in the Habs top four Wednesday night.
Beaulieu was recalled by the Canadiens Friday, and suited up against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night. He played on the third pairing with Francis Bouillon and played most of his minutes against the third line of the Leafs.
Beaulieu played well enough for Michel Therrien to move him up to the second pairing alongside Josh Gorges at practice this morning. Bringing Beaulieu up from Hamilton was necessitated by the fact the Canadiens defense has been floundering recently. Carey Price had to be absolutely fantastic against the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs last week, and the Habs were very lucky to come away with two points in a 5-4 overtime win against Ottawa.
Gorges has been just okay, but not as solid and consistent as he has been in the past. Alexei Emelin has struggled since his return from off season knee surgery, and Raphael Diaz has not been the same skilled puck mover that showed promise in his first two seasons with the Habs.
So the number 3-5 Habs defenders have been worse than a year ago, and their veteran depth guys have been terrible. Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon have been so bad, it is arguable that David Drewiske who has not played a game yet this year, has been just as valuable as the other two aging defenders.
Beaulieu picked up his offensive game recently in the American Hockey League, scoring six points in his past seven games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He is known more for his offensive game, but it is the defensive side of things he will be challenged to bring to a new level tomorrow night.
Beaulieu will be paired with Gorges against the Pittsburgh Penguins who are the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference. Playing with Gorges, Beaulieu is sure to see a healthy dose of either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. With all due respect to Mason Raymond and Peter Holland, they aren’t exactly as tough to play against as the Pens superstars.
So it will be a tough test for Beaulieu who will be playing in just his 13th NHL game. If he shows he can handle the tough minutes, the Habs defense pairing will be as well balanced as they have been all season.
First of all, being able to send out Subban with Markov puts the Habs in a very enviable position. These two form one of the best pairings in the entire league. The problem has been that the bottom four have not been able to play well enough to keep the Habs best two defensemen together.
Having Beaulieu who is a great skater and puck mover playing with the shot blocking king Gorges gives an offensive and defensive mix to the pairing. There is also a similar offense with defense mix on the third pairing, as Emelin is a heavy hitting shutdown player (at least he was) and Diaz was once a decent puck mover and point producer.
Emelin and Diaz is not a great pairing right now, but neither will be counted on to shut down Crosby or Malkin, and that is the best place to have them as they try to find their confidence again.
This is a lot of pressure on Nathan Beaulieu, but if he can find his groove with Gorges, the Habs can bid adieu to Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon, which is what Canadiens fans have been hoping to do all season.