“Les joueurs du Canadien tombent comme des mouches” – La Presse Headline
They’re dropping like flies.
No kidding!! Tomorrow night there’ll be no Prust, White or Gionta and probably not Price, although he’s “day-to-day”. And of course there’s Lars Eller.
Michel Therrien is going to be one of the three or four coaches considered for coach of the year in the NHL this season. Along with taking his team from last to first in the Eastern Conference, he also respect for his ability to make roster adjustments at exactly the right time.
Even in the fourth game of the Ottawa series when, faced with the absence of Ryan White and Brian Gionta, he moved Jeff Halpern up to play centre with great effect between Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Prust.
Does Therrien and his coaching staff have another rabbit in their collective hat to deal with the bursting Canadiens clinic?
We now know that Gionta is gone of the season and will face surgery for another torn bicep muscle. Prust will be missing from game five with what could be a broken rib, compounding the shoulder problems he’s been trying to play through for most of the playoffs. Ryan White is also unavailable with an “upper body” problem that also appears to be a shoulder.
As this series has unfolded, Therrien has had to make changes to all three of his top forward lines.
Halpern and Gabriel Dumont drew in to the lineup for game four replacing Gionta and White. Dumont was on the ice for 7 ½ minutes, although long enough to win all six of his faceoff attempts. Under the circumstances, can Therrien afford to have a seven minute player in his lineup?
Michael Ryder went over to his natural right wing position to replace Gionta with Plekanec and Bourque and that was the Canadiens best all-round line on the night. That’s not likely to be changed.
Brendan Gallagher was back with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Desharnais had a little more life to his game and Pacioretty is playing hurt. Still, there seems no sense breaking them up.
Which brings us to the third line. With Prust gone, who plays with Halpern and Galchenyuk? The only choices are moving Colby Armstrong or Travis Moen up from the fourth line and hope that one or the other can find Galchenyuk some open ice. Armstrong would be my choice only because he has a slight offensive edge on Moen.
If so, that leaves Moen and two question marks for the fourth line. In a key game like this, Therrien needs to roll a fourth line and he’s been reluctant to do so at times. His options are the rookie Dumont and Mike Blunden.
Nokelainen was the only unrestricted free agent that Marc Bergevin re-signed last summer. He came to training camp with a bad back and wound up mid-season on a re-hab assignment with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He played in 17 games for the Bulldogs at the end of their season, scoring 2 goals and 2 assists and was part of the group of eight “black aces” called up from the Bulldogs as the playoffs began. Only the coaching staff can say how much the back problems have affected his skating, but he seemed to be all right when I watched him. Healthy, he brings size, defence. Experience and a strong presence in the faceoff circle. Under the circumstances, he’ll at least be given some consideration.
As to the Carey Price situation, it’s the old “day-to-day” situation. The way he collapsed on that final shot of the third period, it looks like a groin issue. Since Price’s lower body flexibility is a key to his game, even a minor hitch can become a major problem.
Not counting his brief game four appearance, Peter Budaj had been in four playoff games, all with Colorado and all in relief. Three times he was mopping up messes created by Jose Theodore. His playoff goals against average was 3.39. Any statistics involving goaltenders coming in to relieve the starter are skewed by the fact that, a) -the game is usually out of sight already and, b) not only the starter was having a bad night, but usually his team was laying an egg at the same time. If Price is unavailable, Hamilton’s Robert Mayer will be the backup.
Don’t get too excited but Lars Eller skated on his own Wednesday at the Brossard training centre. The main issue is the concussion. He’ll not return until all vestiges of the injury are gone.