by Christopher Nardella, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
The Montreal Canadiens are going through a turbulent patch of their 2016-17 campaign. However, they are still destined, baring another momentous collapse, for the post-season. With this in mind, depth will be a massive factor in whether or not they can make a dent in the playoffs.
The Canadiens’ fourth line has seen many changes during the course of this season. With the trade deadline becoming ever the more near, it will be interesting to see how the team’s fourth line shakes up come the year’s end.
The fourth line composed of Philip Danault, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn got off to a torrential start this season. However, they soon cooled off considerably, at least when speaking about their point production.
Following the injuries to Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais, Danault was thrusted off the fourth line left wing role to play between the team’s two most productive offensive players. With Danault’s spot seemingly solidified at least in the top-nine for the foreseeable future, the Canadiens coaching staff has been searching for a combination for the entirety of the season that can be effective and a presence on the ice.
There’s little to no doubt that Torrey Mitchell will be a component, at least in some part, of the team’s fourth line come season’s end. The Greenfield Park, Quebec native has been a mainstay on the Canadiens’ fourth line for the entire extent of his tenure as a member of the organization, outside of a couple shifts higher up in the lineup.
Better served as a centreman, Mitchell has been delegated to the wing as of late, despite still taking his fair share of faceoffs. Either as a centreman or a winger, on either side of the ice, the 5-foot-10-inch forward will be on the team’s fourth line come season’s end.
Accompanying Mitchell from the team from which they were sent to Montreal from is Brian Flynn, who has also been consistently a member of the bottom-six over the past three seasons. Despite being the most easily moved out of the lineup, Flynn has been used in crucial faceoff spots in the past and has shown promise in spurts in terms of puck control and zone retention.
Flynn has the second-highest faceoff win totals among non-centreman this season, only trailing Andrew Shaw. To have another right handed faceoff man is always a net positive. However, that characteristic might now be filled by the up and coming Michael McCarron.
Former 26th overall pick Michael McCarron has had a pair of stints with the Canadiens this season, the latest of which seems to have even further amplified his case to stay in the NHL. Opposed to the aforementioned, and players vying for a spot on the team, McCarron brings a rare skill set of size and physicality. His physicality has been on display of late, most notably in Saturday night’s 4-2 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. His ability to apply physicality and maintain puck possession are divergent from anybody else’s abilities on the roster.
Outside of the blatantly apparent size of the American, McCarron also provides premium puck protection and serves as a right handed face-off man, one of only two centreman on the roster who have analogous characteristics. Especially if Torrey Mitchell is used alongside him, it allows both of them to cheat more on strong side faceoffs knowing that you have another right handed centreman waiting in the wings.
With two lineup spots presumed as filled in the forms of Mitchell and McCarron, there’s still one wing spot available, which a whole host of prospects have taken swings at, but have missed thus far. Daniel Carr, who was just recently demoted to the IceCaps, has had his fair share of opportunity on the fourth line, but to no avail. That might just be due to the role not suiting his skill set, and not directly due to his ineptitude, although that can’t be entirely ruled out.
Jacob De la Rose has played nine games with the Canadiens this season, proving to be highly productive in the faceoff circle, and a dependable penalty killer. However, that’s generally where his talents end. Sven Andrighetto has been deployed alongside Tomas Plekanec and Shaw as of late, with a cup of tea alongside Alex Galchenyuk. He has showed flashes of productivity. However, he is often very inconsistent and when he is off, is essentially useless on the ice.
The return of Brendan Gallagher has solidified the team’s top-nine, barring a transaction that brings the Canadiens another forward. Should GM Marc Bergevin add another forward to this Canadiens lineup, without consigning someone from his roster to another team, that would push one forward from the top-nine to the fourth line. The potential demotes would likely be Paul Byron, Shaw or Danault.
Byron, who saw success in a lesser role earlier in his tenure in Montreal, has been very effective higher up in the lineup. Shaw has been the target of warranted criticism due to untimely penalties that have cost the Canadiens points on occasion. In spite of this, Shaw is first on the team among forwards that have played at least 20 games with 2.2 hits per game.
Shaw has also provided a higher points per game level than his career average of 0.4, providing the team with 0.44 points per game this season. A demotion of Philip Danault is unlikely, especially considering how in favour he is in with the team’s coaching staff and past stubbornness with demoting favoured players.
As we near the trade deadline, there’s some uncertainty over what Bergevin might do. Nevertheless, the duo of Torrey Mitchell and Michael McCarron are, in my opinion, to be the two pillars on the Canadiens’s fourth line. The open wing spot is yet to be determined, but there’s no shortage of options for the Habs’ coaching staff.