Not often does a team fighting for positioning sit their star goaltender and two of their top four defenseman late in the season. But that is exactly what the Montreal Canadiens will do tomorrow night when they face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien announced today that Carey Price, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin will stay in Montreal when the rest of the team makes its way to Chicago for the Habs 80th game of the season.
The Canadiens have already clinched a playoff berth, but are in a neck and neck race to the finish with the Tampa Bay Lightning for second in the Atlantic Division standings. The two teams will likely play each other in the opening round of the postseason, but the team who finishes ahead will receive home ice advantage in the series.
With not much separating the two teams, shouldn’t the Canadiens ice their most potent lineup in an effort to gain home ice advantage?
Montreal sits with 97 points in the standings and three games remaining. They will travel to Chicago tomorrow and then return home to play both New York teams at the Bell Centre to wrap up the regular schedule.
The Lightning are four points back with 93, but also have a game in hand on Montreal. Tampa Bay have a rough schedule, facing three teams battling for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and the Philadelphia Flyers who are in a similar Tampa-Montreal fight in the Metropolitan Division with the Rangers.
It appears Montreal will ice a defensively suspect lineup against the Blackhawks, and then chase points once they return home. However, I don’t think that they are in a comfortable enough position to be resting players already.
The best option would be to still play Markov, yet dial his minutes down a bit to give him some rest. Same could be said with Emelin, although he has been playing his best hockey of the season lately and should just be left alone to help the team win. This way the Canadiens could use the pair late in the game in an effort to grab two points if they are for the taking. If the game is pretty much decided in the third, then you rest the Russian duo.
The Canadiens should start Price against the Blackhawks, and then give backup Peter Budaj the easier task of taking on the Islanders Thursday night. This would give the team the best chance of winning all of their remaining games, instead of stacking the odds against the team when they head to Chicago tomorrow.
Chicago will be without their top two players Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and are beatable with Price in the lineup, and the team’s number two defense pairing playing. With Budaj starting, and both Russian defenders sitting at home, Chicago is certainly the favorite to win tomorrow night.
I think the Canadiens are doing a huge disservice to their team and fans by sitting these players, and should be more worried about the Tampa Bay Lightning than they are right now.
Fans of the Habs have been questioning Michel Therrien’s coaching decisions much of the season, I certainly don’t see the upside to this one.
Thanks to the 21,273 fans who flood to the Bell Centre every home game, Montreal has a huge advantage when playing on home ice. It appears they are willing to overlook that in their opening playoff round.