Montreal Canadiens: Lack Of Lineup Changes Could Prove Costly

ST PAUL, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 20: Head coach Claude Julien of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
ST PAUL, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 20: Head coach Claude Julien of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens won Game 1, but shouldn’t enter Game 2 being too comfortable.

The Montreal Canadiens were not given much of a chance to win their play-in series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens finished well ahead of the Habs in the regular season standings, and the Canadiens were the lowest ranked of the 24 teams to qualify for the qualifiers.

The 24th best team in the regular season shouldn’t have much of a chance against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in a series. That is why so many people were surprised to see the Habs celebrating a victory after Jeff Petry fired home a wrist shot in overtime.

Though the Habs looked good in stretches of Game 1, and pulled out a victory, it doesn’t mean they should be considered favourites to win this evening’s Game 2.

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There is an old adage in hockey that says you don’t change a winning lineup. There is also an old adage in hockey that says berating and embarrassing players in front of their teammates will make them play better.

Suffice to say some old school beliefs aren’t actually pillared in truth. Not changing a winning lineup makes little to no sense. If a star player is sick or injured and you win, do you keep that player out of the lineup until your team loses a game? If you win and have a fourth line winger that played 4 minutes and didn’t look good, do you keep him in the lineup anyway even though he was terrible?

No. You don’t. At least you shouldn’t. However, Claude Julien is going to do just that. Since the Habs won the first game of the series, there will be no changes made to the lineup. This makes little sense considering how little Dale Weise and Xavier Ouellet brought to the lineup in Game 1.

Just because the team won doesn’t mean they can’t play even better in Game 2. They have Jake Evans sitting in the press box (I think. Are players allowed in the press box right now?) Regardless, Evans proved to be a valuable player in his short stint with the Canadiens before the season was paused.

The 24 year old scored two goals and three points in 13 games with the Habs this season. He showed in his first taste of NHL action that he can handle the defensive responsibility of a fourth line centre. Meanwhile, the veteran Dale Weise played ten more games than Evans, scored one less goal and two more points.

Wouldn’t it make sense to have Evans play fourth line centre and move Max Domi up to a bigger role while Weise sits?

The same situation is taking place on the blue line. Xavier Ouellet played an ineffective 18:46 in Game 1. He turned the puck over far too frequently, lost his coverage in the defensive zone and failed to move the puck up ice regularly. He is playing the left side on the third pairing which has pushed Victor Mete to the right side though he is a left shot.

What the Habs need on a third pairing with Mete is a reliable, solid defensive player with some size who can play the right side. What the Habs need is Cale Fleury. Or Noah Juulsen. Both of them are sitting right there waiting to get into the lineup.

But they can’t. Because Julien decided to go with the “veteran” Ouellet. I say veteran because he is older than Fleury and Juulsen, but he only played one postseason game before Saturday night. Does that really make him a veteran presence out there?

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It didn’t look like it in Game 1. But since the players around Weise and Ouellet played well enough to win, the lineup remains unchanged. So, Julien is waiting for the team to lose before he gives it the best chance to win. Excellent. If they lose tonight, I guarantee Ouellet will be out of the lineup for Game 3. So why wait?