With Lars Eller out one to two weeks, the Montreal Canadiens have some time to evaluate their forwards without the player who takes a majority of the defensive zone draws and the toughest assignments. In the short time until Eller returns, the Montreal Canadiens seem to be comfortable with simply shifting those responsibilities to Tomas Plekanec's line; a line that features two rookies in Sven Andrighetto and Jiri Sekac. However, the Montreal Canadiens' coaching staff will be faced with a tough task when Eller gets healthy. The answer may result in a lineup that creates a tough matchup game for opposing teams and depth for the Montreal Canadiens.
While Eller recovers, the Montreal Canadiens may be best off just using the lines they used on Tuesday and letting things go.
Pacioretty - Galchenyuk - Gallagher
Unless this line falls off a cliff, they should stay together, partially because it allows Alex Galchenyuk to be eased into the centre position with the Montreal Canadiens' two best wingers. It also means that for the first time in a long time Max Pacioretty is not the sole shooter on his line. When Pacioretty was playing alongside David Desharnais, he became a crutch for him and the line became as predictable as the kid who only eats peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch.
By playing Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and Gallagher together, the Montreal Canadiens are loading up one line and expecting them to produce offence. Even though offensive zone starts for other lines may be sacrificed to ensure that Galchenyuk gets easier zone starts than the other centres. This does not mean that Galchenyuk was not asked to pull his weight defensively, as his line was matched up against the Sedins in the Vancouver Canucks game on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see what the matchups are like in subsequent games as Michel Therrien is clearly testing his youngest player.
Sekac - Plekanec - Andrighetto
This line had interesting usage in their first game together Tuesday. Although Tomas Plekanec is centring the line, he is flanked by two rookies. In order to give Alex Galchenyuk offensive zone starts he needs to learn the responsibilities of playing centre. However, Plekanec may not get the line-mates who will make his life easier when tasked with defensive zone starts. Michel Therrien can also shift players to help with defensive assignments depending on game situation.
To keep this line effective, Michel Therrien should try to better distribute the defensive responsibilities by hard matching one of Plekanec or Lars Eller and taxing the other line with the hard match up. With two strong defensive centres, the Montreal Canadiens can afford to split the defensive burden between the two lines without over-taxing either line. By sharing the burden, Plekanec will hopefully not fade down the stretch like he has in seasons past.
Desharnais - Eller - Parenteau
This is the line that may need shifting when there are heavy defensive-zone starts. For most of the season, Eller has taken over Plekanec's role of defensive zone starter. While Eller is out, this role should simply shift back to Plekanec. The problem with Eller playing the role of defensive zone starter is that he may need better defensive wingers at certain points in a game. This should be taken into consideration to a certain extent, but should not have a major influence on the creation of the lines that are used for the majority of the game.
The biggest change with this line is Desharnais is shifted to wing. There looks to be no space for him at centre anymore considering the roles and usage of the centres of the Montreal Canadiens. If Galchenyuk takes over Desharnais' role of the primary offensive zone starter, Desharnais should be recast into a position where he can still succeed. His success and possible re-invention may reside alongside Eller. Although this would mean Desharnais playing wing, it would also mean relieving him of some defensive responsibility and he may be better suited to play wing in the NHL than play centre as a heavily protected player. If there are situations where either Desharnais or P.A. Parenteau are incapable of handling the defensive assignment, the fourth line should have players available to help Eller perform his role of defensive zone starter and possessor of pucks.
Prust - Malhotra - Bournival
The fourth line would feature two players who are able to play when the situation calls for them to. Michael Bournival is currently on Desharnais' wing and he fits there. Brandon Prust spent weeks on Eller's wing and looked like a competent third-liner. Two of the three players are capable of playing when needed. This would mainly be to spell out wingers on Eller's and Plekanec's lines as needed.
The fourth line does not need to play too many minutes. If the minutes of the bottom-3 can be limited without overtaxing the top-9, the entire team will benefit. There are three competent penalty killers on the line, something that cannot be said if Dale Weise is playing.
The Roster Limit
The inclusion of Sven Andrighetto, and hopefully Nathan Beaulieu on defence, means that a roster spot has to be opened up when Bryan Allen is activated from injured reserve (IR). If it's assumed that Eric Tangradi is sent down once Eller returns to health, the most obvious roster move is to waive Allen. I believe this means that there has to be a 24-hour period where Allen comes off IR and goes through waivers when Nathan Beaulieu has to be sent down to Hamilton. Do not panic if this happens. It truly is a numbers game sometimes.
The Montreal Canadiens may be reshaping their entire roster again, simply due to injuries and scoring struggles. As with much of what Therrien does, it will probably work out because so many logical moves have been made. The real moment of reckoning for Therrien and Marc Bergevin will be when Allen is activated from IR and Eller is ready to play. The roster moves following those two events should give a clearer indication of the direction of the team this, and future seasons.