Therrien has Juggling Act in Front of Him

By Jared Book, Special to All Habs Hockey Magazine

MONTREAL, QC. — Michel Therrien entered the 2012-2013 NHL season as a coach that had a lot to prove. His hiring to take over the Montreal Canadiens for a second time raised some eyebrows but despite a shortened training camp, he has shown a refreshing mix of successful in-game management and lineup construction.

He made it clear from the beginning that there will be no excuses on this Canadiens team under his watch and all it took was one game to show his rule. Lars Eller, according to his coach, showed a “lack of intensity” in the season opener and was a healthy scratch for the next two games. Then, upon the return of P.K. Subban, Therrien again had to make a decision about a healthy scratch with a forward. He decided that Ryan White would be the one to sit out after White took a roughing call followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct call that allowed the Ottawa Senators to turn a 1-1 game into a 3-1 lead. This wasn’t public discipline, just somebody had to sit and White was the most convenient choice with the team going with 11 forwards that day.


(Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Now, with Max Pacioretty back, Therrien has a completely healthy lineup save Petteri Nokelainen. That means he has 13 forwards that have a role in the Canadiens lineup. It is a good problem to have, but it is not an easy situation to deal with.

Therrien has said publicly that he wants to hold players accountable and that he wants to reward good play. That is part of the reason Eller and White were healthy scratches and part of the reason Eller stayed in the lineup after he had his best game of the season against Buffalo. Therrien has also said that he wants everybody to play and that he will rotate players in and out because he does not want players hoping their teammates will make a mistake so that they can re-enter the lineup. To me, it makes sense. However, it can paint Therrien into a corner.

Scratching Eller and White for bad games or mistakes can be alright. But what happens when he wants to get White back into the lineup? Do you sit out Eller who has been playing better since moving to center and taking some shifts with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk? That will not reward good play. Does Therrien sit out Travis Moen or Colby Armstrong? Arguably they are the most similar to White (read: interchangeable) but are veterans who play their role well and it makes it harder to sit them out. Brandon Prust? He provides a punch (no pun intended) to whichever line he steps out with. And you can’t realistically expect him to sit out any of the top-six forwards unless they visibly struggle.

Basically, Therrien will have to communicate with his players. Use the healthy scratch as a tool to rest key players for a condensed schedule. When Therrien tells Carey Price that he will start Peter Budaj, Price doesn’t see it as a punishment. It is a chance to rest. That is how Therrien will have to juggle his forwards and maybe even to a certain extent his defencemen. Look at the opponent and play the 12 forwards that fit in best. To that point, don’t be surprised if White makes his way back into the lineup just in time for Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

Resting players is something that other teams have already talked about this season with their veteran players. Florida has sat captain Ed Jovanovski out in back-to-back games. Ottawa has talked about doing the same thing with Daniel Alfredsson. It is hard to play hard every night, especially with a condensed schedule and if Therrien can communicate that to his players successfully, everybody can be happy.

Competition can be good. It’s what these players thrive on, especially if the team continues to win. However, there is a negative side to this as well. If players are scared that if they make a mistake, they will sit, they can play tight and make even more mistakes. It’s why Therrien has to be careful with how he juggles his lineup. He has given Gallagher and Galchenyuk confidence that they can play their games without looking over their shoulder. He has presumably done the same thing with Rene Bourque in a talk prior to the season.

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

It has been a while since Canadiens fans have 13 forwards they want in their lineup. Last year, White, Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber had significant roles with the team. This year, with added depth and health, it isn’t the case. However, injuries will happen and they will have to step up for the team and may even have to do it in an important game. That is what makes this juggling act Therrien has in front of him so important.

A lot of people would dream of being the coach of the Montreal Canadiens. They all have opinions about who should play and where they should play. A lot of players saw the lineup the Canadiens had against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday afternoon as the perfect lineup for their current roster. However, the three people who are sitting out are people too. They have goals and dreams and need to have the confidence that they can go out there and have a regular shift.

Handling the 18 players who are in the lineup is the easy part. But Therrien and his coaching staff have the job of making sure everybody is ready to play when called upon and that will take strong communication with his players. That is something that had been missing but it seems to be one of the first things that have improved from the old regime. There is still a lot of hockey left to be played, and a lot of potential lineup decisions to be questioned. However, it won’t be the decisions themselves that allow the Canadiens to sink or swim this season. It will be how the decisions are made and how they are handled inside the room.

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About the Author

Profile photo of Jared Book
Jared is a graduate of Concordia University's Journalism program and has spent time writing about the Montreal Canadiens at several sites that no longer exist. He has covered every sport from hockey to tennis to baseball in print, radio and television. He once was (initlally) refused an interview with Kirk Muller after a Queens-Concordia game because the assistant coaches thought he wanted an autograph. He has been a staff writer at All Habs since February 2012.

12 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Habitall says:

    I know it’s easy to play amrchair coach, and I have to say I’m generally happy with how Therrien has done so far. I think he’s a real upgrade on Martin and Cunneyworth. That said, I don’t like how he demoted Eller to the 4th line after the game he had against Ottawa — 3 points! Eller is a streaky player, our biggest centre, and we need to get this guy going. But he seems like the odd man out.

    Problem with the Habs is, I hate to say this, but too many small guys (Gionta, Desharnais & Gallagher). Essentially, I would like to see Eller centering one of the top 2 lines, or at least the 3rd. But he can’t do that, because the team has 3 centers the coach obviously feels are better than him (DD, Plex & Galchenyuk). I’m in favor of moving DD to the wing, but then someone else gets bumped down. Barring an injury to someone on the top-9, it looks like Eller is going to be moved around quite a bit.

    BTW, do you think Therrien will sit one of the smaller guys against Boston to ensure White is back in the lineup? That would make sense to me.

    • Jared Book says:

      Honestly? I don’t think one of the smaller guys will sit. It will either be Eller or (unlikely) Armstrong.

      Eller is the odd-man out. The only way he stayed on that first line with Desharnais and Cole is if Pacioretty went to the line with Galchenyuk and Gallagher. The only criticism I have is that he is locked in to having certain guys together and because of that, his ninth skill guy (Eller) gets pushed to the fourth line and Prust moves to the third line because of his forechecking.

      But you can’t blame Therrien for sticking with what works, either.

      I really like Eller and you forget that he is only 23 years old. If he had gotten the opportunity that Desharnais did last year, things could be very different for him. The best move for him might be to be traded but there’s no way you get full value for him so it doesn’t make sense for Bergevin to make a move.

  2. Habitall says:

    I hope they keep Eller. Like you said, what would the return be? Seems to me that apart from Galchenyuk, there are no big centres on the way up. Cole, Gionta and even Plekanec won’t be around forever, perhaps 2 or all of them will be gone in 2 years. Eller should tehn be coming into his prime. So if for now they could slot him into the 3rd line, work him on the PK and get even a bit of time on the PP, it would be good long term asset managemen, in my opinion. I like Prust on line 3, but I like Eller better.

  3. Jake says:

    Desharnais Contract year, now is the time figure things out.

    1. What you have in Eller
    2. How DD can perform with wingers aside from Pacioretty and Cole.

    At Eller’s age DD hadn’t even made the NHL yet. and their first seasons in the AHL are extremely similar, 57 pts in 70 games for Eller, and 58 pts in 76 for DD. One difference, Eller was 20 and playing his first year on an NHL style rink. DD was 23 and a lot further in the natural progression of a pro hockey player.

    • Jared Book says:

      Yeah, there is no question that Eller has more upside than DD. There’s a reason one was a first round pick and the other undrafted (not always a good measure, but it works in this case…)

      I think the best call is really to keep both unless DD asks for way too much. But I think even DD knows that he’s in the best situation he’d ever be in.

      Therrien has already shown that he isn’t afraid to sit DD if he struggles. If that line doesn’t keep going like it has, it will be broken up. But as long as it’s working, you can’t take the chance of splitting them up.

  4. Jake says:

    Just curious on what you mean “shown he’s not afraid to sit DD if he struggles” Because he was struggling pretty bad I thought and Eller remained in the pressbox.

    • Jared Book says:

      Third period of Winnipeg game. His ice time went down as the game went on even though the game was getting closer. Less time in the third than Armstrong, Prust, Moen, White. Galchenyuk almost played more in that period.

      Eller also only had one shift in that period too, but DD was even taken off the PP and replaced with Galchenyuk and Gallagher.

      • Jake says:

        Fair point – I just doubt he’ll sit a game in the press box regardless if he has 5 straight bad games again. I could be wrong though.

  5. Robert Rice says:

    I’d sit out Armstrong for White. Armstrong hasn’t been good on the PK and it’s clear injuries have sapped his skill. Still the only guy on the team w/o a point this season aside from Weber, who played 10:17 in one game.

  6. Normand Prejet says:

    He will probably sit Armstrong but its a tough decision