It’s a little reckless to put too much stock in a single game, but this is hockey, and reckless optimism is the very first requirement of being a sports fan.
Tuesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks was the best one the Canadiens have played in a very long time, and if it’s at all a sign of things to come, I have some words to take back regarding David Desharnais. Most notably that he is a useless dead weight and the Habs should find a way to accidentally forget him in Edmonton.
For the better part of his time on the Habs, Desharnais has been playing sheltered minutes on the first line with Max Pacioretty, which might have been the best situation for David Desharnais, but not necessarily that for Pacioretty. Their WOWY numbers show that Pacioretty is the one driving the play on that line, and Desharnais is simply benefiting from playing alongside the goal scorer. In the absence of a first line centre (objectively, at least), the Habs gave their best forward a play making centre that had some chemistry with him, but a recent comparison shows that that the chemistry is overrated.
Tomas Plekanec is, of course, always an option but the fact that he has the best two-way game among the Habs forwards mean he is better deployed elsewhere. Alex Galchenyuk was available but the organization wasn’t ready to let him transition to playing centre until this year. Lars Eller seems to be in permanent Therrien purgatory even though he has been a bright spot for the Habs this season. In addition, the question that always comes up when separating Desharnais from Pacioretty is where Desharnais could reasonably be played given his relative lack of defensive prowess.
Enter an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to a fortuitous change in the Habs’ lineup. A series of losses coupled with an injury to Lars Eller, compelled Michel Therrien to shuffle his lines and give Canadiens fans what we thought we would never get a chance to see: Alex Galchenyuk playing centre, with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, no less.
If our fandom were a movie, this would be the moment the heavens opened up, a white light shone down on us, and angels began to sing. Predictably, that line was absolutely dominant on the ice all night and the Canucks had a lot of trouble defending against it.
The lineup change didn’t just help those three players, however. It may have helped David Desharnais find a home off of the Pacioretty line. He played extremely well with Michael Bournival and P.A. Parenteau on the "third" line and the overall result was the Habs were rolling four lines and skating circles around the Vancouver Canucks.
I will admit to years of skepticism regarding Desharnais’ potential without Pacioretty but Bournival and Parenteau brought out the best in him in that game against the Canucks, at least. The question "well, what would you do with him if you took him off the Pacioretty line?" could finally have an answer.
It’s going to take a lot more games with Bournival and Parenteau to determine whether this is in fact the optimal situation for Desharnais, one in which he can still be productive and the others aren’t held back. Complications will also arise once Lars Eller returns to the lineup or even when one of the other lines slumps and a shakeup is needed.
This was just one game, and a minuscule sample size. But it was one game that indicated that it might be possible for the Habs to make the best use of David Desharnais, all the while helping Max Pacioretty produce without him.