Apr 11, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (40) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Canadiens beat the Sabres 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Beaulieu May Enter Montreal Canadiens Lineup With Season On The Line

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Jan 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (40) skates with the puck against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens are gearing up for a do or die Game 6 tonight at the Bell Centre, where they will host the Boston Bruins who have a 3-2 series lead in the Atlantic Division Final.

It appears that Habs head coach Michel Therrien may be making a few lineup changes, as TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger tweeted out earlier today.

Sitting Douglas Murray should come as no surprise to any fan of the Canadiens, but inserting Nathan Beaulieu into the lineup after a lengthy layoff may not be the best idea either.

Nothing is official yet, and likely will not be until minutes before the puck drops tonight. However, Beaulieu skated with the rest of the regulars this morning, while Murray and Francis Bouillon stayed late after practice for extra reps.

Feb 2, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Winnipeg Jets right wing Chris Thorburn (22) and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (40) battle for the puck during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The veteran defenders were joined by Jarred Tinordi, Ryan White, George Parros and other skaters from the Hamilton Bulldogs who are yet to suit up in the NHL postseason. This was a sign that both Murray and Bouillon may be in the press box tonight.

Beaulieu is a 21 year old smooth skating defenseman who was a first round draft choice in the 2009 NHL Draft. He spent most of this season in the American Hockey League with the Bulldogs, where he scored 27 points in 57 games. He also skated in 17 games with the Canadiens this season, scoring two points.

Beaulieu is a fantastic skater, and is the polar opposite of Douglas Murray. Murray plays a very physical style, but is almost definitely the slowest skater in professional hockey.

There is no question that the Canadiens have spent far too much time in their own zone when Murray has been on the ice against the Bruins. The huge Swedish defender has played 32 minutes of 5 on 5 time in this series, after being a healthy scratch in the first two games. In those 32 minutes, the Canadiens have been outshot 24-10 by the Bruins.

So, when Murray is on the ice, the Canadiens get 29.4 percent of the shots on goal. This is by far the worst ratio on the team, and the Canadiens need to find a better defenseman to take those ten minutes per game.

Beaulieu is exactly the type of defenseman the Habs need on the ice with Mike Weaver. Instead of Murray, whose speed makes it difficult for him to reach loose pucks, which leads to more time in the defensive zone, the Canadiens would have one of the fastest skaters on the ice in Beaulieu. He would be able to get the puck out of the Habs zone simply by using his speed, and his passing is infinitely better than Murray’s.

Beaulieu would be a great fit on the second power play, and though he can not replace Murray’s shorthanded ice time, Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, P.K. Subban and Weaver are more than capable of killing penalties. In the 17 NHL games he played this season, he looked more and more comfortable, and was only sent back to the AHL in February because the NHL schedule took a break for the Olympics.

The only problem is Beaulieu has not played a game since the Bulldogs finished their regular season on April 19th. You would have to question whether he is in the “game shape” that is often referenced by players who had been injured and out of the lineup for an extended period.

It would be a tough situation to put a rookie in, making his NHL postseason debut in the sixth game of a series against the President’s Trophy winners. However, Beaulieu has been practicing with the team since the NHL postseason began, and should have been in the lineup long ago.

In an elimination game, it is better late than never for the Montreal Canadiens to ice their best lineup.

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