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The Canadiens' problems on defense are their own doing

With the scratching of Jarred Tinordi today, Michel Therrien is once again confirming that he does not understand how to help his younger players.

Richard Wolowicz

Forget about the matchup with the Florida Panthers. The issue on defense for the Montreal Canadiens can be traced back all the way to last season, and reaffirmed in the offseason.

On Saturday, with seven games remaining in the regular season, Jarred Tinordi is a healthy scratch in favour of the mistake-prone ECHL level talent, Douglas Murray. Tinordi has done everything from playing under 10 minutes per game, to playing over 20 minutes per game with P.K. Subban on the top pairing.

He hasn't found a role, and once in awhile, he makes mistakes like this:

That giveaway in the final minutes ended up being the game winner in the Canadiens' only loss over the last 8 games, and as such has been analyzed to death in Montreal. There is no denying that it was a grievous mistake by Tinordi, but in spite of the optics of it, it's a mistake you should be able to live with.

Why is that?

This mistake by Tinordi isn't one where his lack of skill was exploited. It wasn't a symptom of bad hockey intelligence where he went out of position. It wasn't an inherently risky play that he doesn't have the skill to pull off. What it was, was an AHL move.

Tinordi said after the game that he thought he had more time, and that he didn't realize Johansen was bearing down on him so quickly. You could say that a veteran NHL defenseman doesn't make that mistake, and you would most likely be right, and that's the entire problem. The only way Tinordi will improve and plays like that will go away, is playing him more. He has improved by leaps and bounds over last year, but he needs to be fully integrated into the NHL game.

Developmental missteps

Fans and media will often defend the signings of Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray as necessary depth moves in order to keep Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu in Hamilton as long as possible, where they can refine their games and develop slowly. This sounds extremely logical at first glance, and in many cases it's the right move, but not in this one.

Both Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are already NHL level talents. Both have proven this in extended call ups, and both have been criticized in the AHL for either not giving it their all, or not standing out, or just not playing well. Beaulieu especially was criticized all season for not being the dynamic player people expected.

Watching Beaulieu in Hamilton though, I observed an extremely dominant defenseman who was simply too fast a thinker for his teammates. He would put passes where players were supposed to be, only for them to be a step behind. Eventually he slowed his game down a bit, and started to have more success, which saw him get recalled to the big club.

He excelled in Montreal, ramping up his game again, wowing fans and media and playing top-4 level minutes while putting up great possession numbers. Then as the Olympic break began, he was sent down to the AHL, and the same criticisms as earlier began to surface.

The fact is, he's too good for that league, and so is Tinordi.

Rookie mistakes in the playoffs

Michel Therrien is terrified of this. It's beyond obvious. He seems to think that veterans who are far past their prime in Murray and Bouillon as safer bets than his two rookies that are NHL ready. Every minute shred of evidence suggests this is false, but even Douglas Murray is unlikely to give up the puck to Ryan Johansen in that situation against Columbus, so even though Therrien is looking at the wrong evidence to make his conclusion, the evidence still exists

Goals against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time
Nathan Beaulieu Jarred Tinordi Douglas Murray Francis Bouillon
0.6497 2.4397 2.5343 2.9979

The problem is, this could have all been avoided. From the very beginning of the season, and all season, at least one of Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu should have been in the starting lineup every single game.

Every matchup is a learning experience for these young players. If one or even both of these players had played 60 NHL games this year instead of 19 and 16 respectively, we wouldn't be talking about rookie mistakes nearly as much, because they'd be used to NHL speed.

Therrien and his coaching staff are now in a situation where they have two veterans bleeding goals against at an absurd rate, but they don't trust their two raw rookies. Heading into the playoffs, Therrien has run out of runway to get these two integrated, and is likely to go with the inferior duo in the playoffs.

This is a problem due entirely to their own poor planning.