How the Montreal Canadiens Must Adjust Without Alex Galchenyuk

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How the Montreal Canadiens Must Adjust Without Alex Galchenyuk
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images
Montreal Canadiens forwards Alex Galchenyuk (left) and Tomas Plekanec.

With upstart forward Alex Galchenyuk out for the next six weeks with a broken hand, the Montreal Canadiens inconsistent offense becomes that much more of a dilemma that needs to be addressed…that and so much else.

The sophomore winger/center has 23 points, putting him fourth in team scoring entering Saturday night. As a result, his contributions and the detriment to the team his loss presents cannot be overstated. The team’s precarious power up front, which has generated just 115 goals in 45 games (an average of just over 2.5), has taken a serious hit.

For immediate proof, look to Wednesday night’s listless performance against the Philadelphia Flyers, a game even head coach Michel Therrien looked like he wanted to lose. The Habs failed to generate anything in the Flyers’ zone during the 3-1 defeat, the Habs’ first game without Galchenyuk. There is clearly room for improvement.

 

The Real Question

Is the required improvement a direct result of Galchenyuk’s injury or independent of it, though, with the team just 6-6-2 over the last 14 games? Sure, the Habs are a very good 25-15-5 overall, but a playoff spot is contingent on replicating a similar record over the second half of the season. If the Habs can only manage .500 hockey the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 92 points and likely be out of the postseason.

Indeed, the real question is how much will Galchenyuk’s absence affect the team when he’s only played an average of 11:04 over the last four games (one point). Will it even affect them at all? After all, that’s just over half the 20:03 Tomas Plekanec, arguably the team’s most valuable forward, has averaged over the same period.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was benched during the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers.

What’s more telling, however, is that’s also two minutes less than the 13:08 Rene Bourque has “played.” If Therrien insists on benching his stars, as he did P.K. Subban against Philadelphia, and giving more ice time to forwards who consistently just go through the motions—if even that, in Bourque’s case—the good news is the Habs don’t have many adjustments to make over the next month and a half. Therrien can just keep on doing what he’s doing.

The bad news should be obvious.

 

The Bad News

If they keep up their mediocre play, they’ll ultimately find themselves in danger of losing their hold on the Atlantic Division’s third playoff spot. It’s becoming harder and harder to argue that they deserve it.

Up to this point, they’ve owed their success to the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and suddenly surging Ottawa Senators’ inability to rise in the standings as well as a single 9-0-1 stretch—during which the Habs actually didn’t play as well as one would think, getting outshot 294 to 288 during that stretch.

As a result, it’s sad to say, but losing Galchenyuk might be the best thing to happen to the Habs since Carey Price realizing going to Sochi to represent Canada might be kinda cool. Maybe now the Habs will acknowledge they need to hunker down somewhat and stop requiring their goalie to steal games night in, night out. I mean, it won’t be too long before Price realizes he can’t be unnamed to Team Canada, right?

While Galchenyuk has emerged as a key member of the team, he isn’t so valuable as say Price or a Pacioretty, Plekanec or Subban. As such, losing Galchenyuk, while unfortunate, is something the Habs should be able to manage at least in the short term. It all depends on how they go about it, though.

For example, all logic and everything that is good and just in the world points to absolutely anything but the Habs giving more ice time to Bourque. But you know they will, though.

As sure as the sky is blue and Therrien thinks “Corsi” is the French past participle of pulling a Shayne Corson (leaving Montreal to play for Toronto; i.e., "Mike Komisarek a corsi il y a quelques années après avoir devenu moche suite a un combat contre Milan Lucic"), they will.

God help us…and Mike Komisarek once you’re at it. He’s terrible.

 

The Plan

Both Bourque and Galchenyuk play left-wing, meaning Bourque is the most likely to get the lion’s share of his ice time on Lars Eller’s line while Daniel Briere will move up to quasi-permanent residence on the second line (if not the other way around). As the two have three less points than Galchenyuk combined, that idea is probably not the best.

Assuming the first line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Daniel Briere is bulletproof, which it should be at this point barring a sudden decline in production, Therrien’s best option is also the most logical.

Michael Bournival, who earlier in the season found success on the second line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, should be moved back up there, at least on an interim basis to see if he can recapture his scoring touch. While he hasn’t scored a point since November, he’s arguably more deserving of the increased ice time than Briere and has got greater speed.

Briere meanwhile should be relegated to that third line with Eller and Brandon Prust, two linemates that can make room for him to do his thing, which hopefully isn’t “suck,” as has become the overwhelming norm this and last season. He can continue to get his power-play time and hopefully contribute more than he has.

Who should take Alex Galchenyuk's spot on the Lars Eller line?

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That leaves Bourque to ply his trade—whatever it is that he does—on the fourth line with Travis Moen and a center to be called up (Louis Leblanc for example) with Ryan White out at the moment. This is the most logical—and best—solution as it leaves the Habs with three lines that can score in theory and a fourth that at least won’t implode, taking the team, Bell Centre and everyone in it down in the process. One can hope anyway.

 

No Guarantees

Of course, this is all dependent on the Habs staying healthy until Galchenyuk can come back. If they sustain another injury or two—and I think it’s safe to safe we all nominate Bourque—all bets are off. However this plays out, though, the smart money is on Therrien not knowing what he’s got until it’s gone and him gladly giving Galchenyuk—maybe even Subban—the ice time he actually deserves upon his return.

The Habs should be able to hold on until then, but it won’t be pretty. Thankfully, over the past few weeks, Habs fans have at least gotten used to ugly.

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