MONTREAL, QC. — Despite the Canadiens’ overwhelmingly positive performances thus far in the 2017 NHL playoffs, there are few things to critique. The team’s success doesn’t make it so there aren’t ways in which they can be improved upon, I believe the term in astrophysics for this would be nitpicking.
Pervasive physicality has been a hallmark of most of the playoff series so far but particularly in the New York – Montreal matches. The Rangers have thrown 160 plus hits through the first three games of the series with the Canadiens, perhaps uncharacteristically, recording 139 hits themselves.
The Canadiens’ top nine forwards are set considering the groups success so far in the series. A main point of contention for fans could be the composition of the fourth line. Andreas Martinsen and Torrey Mitchell have seen time on the fourth-line right wing thus far. Michael McCarron and Brian Flynn are the only reserve forwards not to have played games in the playoffs.
In Flynn’s case, it doesn’t appear that he is in good favour with Claude Julien, and with good reason, relative to other options available. Flynn, who played only 51 games in the regular season this year due to an amalgam of injuries and being leapfrogged by other players, has played only seven games under the Julien regime. In my opinion, it doesn’t appear that be playing any time soon.
For Game 3, Julien chose to remove Martinsen from the lineup, inserting Torrey Mitchell, a noted decrease in both size and physicality, in favour of speed and defensive ability. Mitchell played a solid game in his first action of the series.
The move to put the Greenfield Park, Quebec native in the lineup was a wise one. With the Rangers icing a lineup focused on physicality, it icould be argued that Julien attempted to take of advantage of this Achilles heel by deploying a player with more abilities than Martinsen. If Julien continues a rotation that could mean that we see Michael McCarron draw into the lineup.
Michael McCarron has been a solid presence with the Canadiens this season, most notably establishing himself as a force in puck possession below the goal line and and generating a cycle play which is a mainstay in the Canadiens’ offensive strategy. The 6-foot-6-inch forward doesn’t have the foot speed of Martinsen or Mitchell. But arguably, McCarron brings more to the table than the Norwegian winger. Should he play effectively when given the chance McCarron should become part of a rotation which omits Martinsen.
Both Dwight King and Steve Ott seem to have won the heart of Julien, who, in my opinion, have been mediocre with intermittment moments of success. It seems to me that the Canadiens would be better served without Andreas Martinsen taking the spot of either Mitchell or McCarron.
An issue with placing McCarron into the lineup is that there are three players on the fourth line who have similar, not identical, makeups. That’s where Julien throws a change up to a team expecting a fastball, a very slow, R.A. Dickey fastball in the person of Mitchell. Two of King, McCarron, Martinsen and Ott can be complemented well by Mitchell.
Let me suggest that a fourth line of Torrey Mitchell, Dwight King and Michael McCarron would be the most auspicious for the rest of this series and the playoffs. However, you can expect that the coaching staff will remain dedicated to moving a variety of players in and out of the lineup. I recommend that Mitchell needs to be given a regular spot on the fourth line, with McCarron ahead of Martinsen on the depth chart.