The fourth line is a disaster zone. They've gone a full two games without generating a single unblocked shot, with the worst of the bunch being Michael Blunden. Going back three games, Blunden has a Fenwick percentage of 4.5%. Not 45%, 4.5%. While Blunden has been on the ice, the Montreal Canadiens have been outshot 15-1 in 17.3 even strength minutes.
It's not all on Blunden, and I don't want to pick on him too much. Ryan White had an incredible start to the season, and his play while shorthanded has been solid, but he can not carry a line. He desperately needs Travis Moen or Brandon Prust to return and help him carry the load, because this is just ugly.
The real problem here though, is that Therrien refuses to shorten his bench when needed. After a terrible start to the game, giving up a goal in what shouldn't have been a dangerous situation, Therrien continued to go back to the fourth line. A bad turnover in the second period by White allowed Jason Pominville to get sprung on a breakaway, and he made no mistake.
Even after directly causing two goals, Therrien again went back to the fourth line in the third period, exacerbating the situation further by pairing them with Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray. I wrote in the recap for the win against Dallas that doing this was a recipe for disaster, and Therrien got lucky that night. Mere seconds after the faceoff, the line gave up a brutal goal to give Minnesota a two goal lead.
Therrien finally wised up at this point, at least to a certain extent. He benched the fourth line as a unit for the rest of the game, only using Ryan White to win a faceoff. However he continued to trot out Francis Bouillon for a regular shift, even double shifting him late in the game, which is confusing considering it was Bouillon who was most at fault for the 3-1 goal by Nino Niederreiter. You can see that clearly in the replay:
As the Wild cross the line, Bouillon is in position, then he drifts to the boards to... do absolutely nothing while leaving his man completely unchecked while George Parros wonders what he's supposed to be doing.
But Frankie Boo is Michel Therrien's bestest buddy in the whole wide world, so the response to this mistake that would get Subban benched was to give him more ice time.
Fortunately for the team, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban decided enough was enough and combined to score a powerplay goal on a Subban rocket, then set up a fantastic deflection by Brian Gionta to tie the game.
Frankie had other ideas though, and in one of Minnesota's rare flurries of offense in a game Montreal held a wide edge in play, Bouillon again chose to not cover his man, because apparently he had to cover Andrei Markov. Yes, the game winner by Pominville was a bad bounce, but let's be honest here, it doesn't happen if it's Subban on the ice instead of Bouillon.
This is a consistent, recurring problem with Michel Therrien. He did it with Douglas Murray against Dallas, he did it with Bouillon last night. He relies on inferior players in do or die situations, and it's a serious problem. It doesn't always bite, but it's going to a lot, and already has several times this season. The Montreal Canadiens are 8-6-0, and they've lost about 4 games in regulation that they deserved at least one point in. If Therrien was willing to play his best players more, how many of those losses become wins?
It's a frustrating question.
And don't forget to check out reaction from the winning side at Hockey Wilderness, which doesn't suck anymore.
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- Top Six Minutes - Out-Coached Edition
- Who are Alexei Emelin's true salary comparables?
- Subban a "Long Shot" for Team Canada? - Friday Habs Links
- How big of a gamble is Alexei Emelin's new deal?
- The EOTP Montreal meetup is set!
- Improving the NHL's "Real Time Stats"