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The Canadiens don’t need to make massive changes to their lineup before game two

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With a few adjustments, the Habs’ lineup can be a winner.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2-0 loss in Game One, many Montreal Canadiens fans are pressing the panic button. One person who isn’t is Claude Julien. And I can see where he is coming from.

Let me preface this two ways. The first is that this is the playoffs. Gamesmanship is real, and there’s a very real chance that Julien doesn’t want to give Alain Vigneault a day’s notice to adjust to a new-look lineup and there will be bigger changes coming.

The second is that I personally would not have Alex Galchenyuk on the fourth line. I am merely arguing for the current lineup as a whole, not its various combinations.

That fourth line with Galchenyuk, Steve Ott, and Andreas Martinsen was a team-worst (among forwards) for shot-attempt differential, and most people will look at a sequence during the second period that had multiple icings and scoring chances against. They will use those numbers to say that there must be changes.

However, if you look closer at the numbers, you see a clear factor in the play of the fourth line.

Here are Steve Ott’s numbers broken down by who he played with. (I used Ott because he and Martinsen had similar numbers. Galchenyuk had additional five on five shifts.)

Player Position TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without
Player Position TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without
Andrei Markov D 1:10 3 0 100 37.04
Shea Weber D 0:55 3 0 100 37.04
Jeff Petry D 3:19 9 2 81.82 21.05
Jordie Benn D 3:42 9 2 81.82 21.05
Nathan Beaulieu D 5:37 1 15 6.25 85.71
Nikita Nesterov D 5:00 1 15 6.25 85.71

(CF/CA: Corsi For/Corsi Against. Corsi = shot attempts)

You can see that almost all of the damage came when the fourth line and third pairing were on the ice together. That’s a simple fix. In fact, when Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov were on the ice with the Canadiens first line, they controlled 80% of the shot attempts. By splitting up the fourth line and third pairing, you fix two problems.

Julien said he needed to make adjustments, not major changes, and if he does decide to stay with this lineup — for better or for worse — the Canadiens can still expect to have a chance to win with different deployments.

For as bad as Montreal seemed to play at times, the Rangers did only score once on Carey Price, so it’s not like there are major changes to make in the defensive zone.

Another change Montreal could make going forward is to carry the puck in more. Their game on Wednesday looked like they were still coached by Michel Therrien and employing his dump-and-chase system. The Rangers went into a trap, and Montreal was not able to get any sustained pressure.

In practice on Thursday, they worked on creating traffic, getting screens, and working on rebounds. There were very few sustained offensive chances for the Canadiens in the opening game of the playoffs, and even fewer rebounds converted.

All in all, Game One was not pretty for the Canadiens, but with a few minor tweaks in usage and deployment, this lineup could have come out on top, and it can win Game Two.