Montreal Canadiens: Assessing the Habs Third Line so Far

TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 14: Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 14: Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The 2021 season is still young, the Canadiens having already played four games versus the Leafs, Oilers, and Canucks. The Habs have managed to score three or more goals in each of those games, totaling at a whopping 17 goals scored to start the year. Bergevin’s additions of offensive depth and grit have been on full display thus far.

The first game against the Maple Leafs ended in a 5-4 overtime loss, featuring goals scored by Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and two by the newly acquired Josh Anderson.  Claude Julien’s newly formed second line combined for a total of six points (Drouin- 3 assists, Suzuki- 1 goal, Anderson- 2 goals).

In the second game, the Habs won 5-1 versus Edmonton. They utterly dominated the Oilers on both ends of the ice, promptly limiting Connor McDavid to 1 point and 2 shots on the game while also weaving around Edmonton’s abysmal defense. The usual suspects were Montreal’s most productive combination that game, with Tatar, Danault and Gallagher combining for a total of 6 points on the night.

In their second game against Edmonton, Montreal beat them 3-1. This time, however, the forwards had a quiet night while the Habs mainly benefitted from two goals scored by defensemen. The first goal was scored on a wrister by rookie defenseman Alexander Romanov, and the eventual game-winner was scored on the powerplay by captain Shea Weber after a crafty move in front of the net by fellow defenseman Jeff Petry.

After the first three games, it’s safe to say that the Habs’ top six has been scoring on all cylinders. However, one thing seems to be missing— the Canadiens’ third line.

The Third ‘Second’ Line

The Canadiens’ third line of Tyler Toffoli, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia, was advertised as Montreal’s secret weapon. The Habs effectively are running three ‘second’ lines as each player in the top 9 has the potential of achieving 35-50 points each this season. Through the first three games, Montreal’s third line have combined for zero points at even-strength. The line had a few chances on Saturday night in the 5-1 win versus Edmonton, however, they could not finish on their opportunities.

After the game, people were already calling for Kotkaniemi to get traded and that Toffoli’s contract was much to lucrative for what he was producing on the ice thus far. There were some doubters as well suggesting that Joel Armia was not cut out for the third line due to his slow skating and lack of skill with the puck.

I was a doubter as well, suggesting that Claude Julien switch up his bottom six a touch by letting each player play in their original positions. It was baffling to say the least when I saw Toffoli playing left-wing for the first time in his career while the speedy and diminutive Paul Byron was wasting on the fourth line at right-wing.

One of my suggestions was to place Joel Armia on the fourth line where he can play his physical, hard-nosed game while being able rip shots in the net with his highly underrated wrist shot. It would also be nice to see him playing with Arturri Lehkonen, his fellow countryman who he’s seen much success with. Paul Byron would be better suited at his natural left side on the third line with Kotkaniemi and Toffoli. He would bring a much-needed dose of speed and skill on the line, complimenting Kotkaniemi’s passing ability and Tyler Toffoli’s power forward-esque style of play.

Enter: January 20th vs Vancouver

The game was a barn-burner to say the least, as the game ultimately ended in a 6-5 loss in a shootout thanks to Braden Holtby’s left side post that clinched the win for Vancouver. Both teams kept scoring in a back-and-forth thriller, where Vancouver kept scoring the go-ahead goal and Montreal quickly responding to tie the game.

Based on the first three games, we would have expected the top 6 to have gotten all 5 goals for the club. That was not the case as it was finally the third line that kept the offense afloat all game. They put up 6 points in total, thanks to Toffoli exploding for a hattrick for his first goals of the season.

We are not sure whether Toffoli was playing with a chip on his shoulder because he was playing against his former team or whether he had finally meshed with his new teammates. All we can say is, it quickly shut the doubters up and gave us new a new found confidence in him and the third line as a whole. It also goes without saying that Kotkaniemi’s nifty pass to Toffoli and his game tying goal midway through the third gave us a reminder just why Marc Bergevin and his staff drafted him at third overall in 2018.

Despite the loss, we can at least see that Montreal’s offense can be depended on to give us goals night in and night out. Perhaps though, Claude Julien could still try to experiment with his bottom six to make them as effective as possible. The line’s weakest link is still Joel Armia as he has yet to record a goal in in this early season, which is supposed to be his specialty. Although, he did get a secondary assist on Toffoli’s go-ahead goal late in the third. Regardless, there is still a lot of ‘wasted’ ability and talent in Paul Byron, who’s skill set just is not made for the fourth line.