The Montreal Canadiens have their forward lines locked in for their series, but the bottom pair of the defence is still a mystery.
We don’t know much about what the Montreal Canadiens are planning since they had a day off on Thursday. What we do know is that they have one practice before their series starts against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
From Wednesday’s practice, it looks as if Claude Julien is committed to running all four lines. The Phillip Danault and Nick Suzuki lines are going to get top priority, while minutes are split between Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Max Domi.
Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, based on your thoughts towards Julien, the Weal-Domi-Weise line got the most time at 5v5. Whether that’s the actual plan or just a matter of circumstance is still up in the air.
The bottom pair of the defence is one aspect of the roster that isn’t set. The Montreal Canadiens had Cale Fleury in as an extra defenceman rotating with Xavier Ouellet and Victor Mete. Ouellet played the most of the three at 5v5 (11:22), followed by Mete (9:28) and Fleury (7:25). Unfortunately, they were on the ice for more chances against than for mostly due to the fact that they didn’t have one main matchup.
Looking at their shift chart (via Natural Stat Trick), Ouellet, Mete and Fleury were seeing time against the Leafs third and fourth lines but sometimes their second and first. But either way, Julien has to settle on what that bottom pair is going to be. Does he play Mete on his strong side with Fleury or on his offhand with Ouellet?
When asked about the internal competition, Julien said:
Whoever we pick has to defend well and, obviously, has to move the puck in our transition much better than we did (Tuesday) night.
All three can move the puck, but their respective defending is relative. One game isn’t really enough to dub a clear superior among the three. And it’ll be interesting to see if Noah Juulsen is still completely out of the picture.
Fans aren’t going to be in the stands to watch the Montreal Canadiens take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Good thing or a bad thing?
Trying to bring Nick Suzuki’s power play chemistry to 5v5 play could be worth exploring.
Perhaps removing Shea Weber from the man-advantage is the shakeup the Habs need.
How a risk turned into a reward for the Montreal Canadiens.