If you watched only the final two periods of the game between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens, you could be excused for not realizing Nicolas Deslauriers was dressed.
Deslauriers played only five shifts in the final two periods, and his even strength ice time in those 40 minutes was only 2:04. He went just about 15 minutes of game time in the second and third periods without getting a single shift.
He didn’t do anything wrong to earn his time on the bench, he, I assume, just didn’t have the confidence of head coach Claude Julien.
The only thing I remember from Deslauriers’ game was one particular play. He backchecked deep in the defensive zone and hit a Calgary forward against the boards behind his own net. The problem was that the puck was already heading in the other direction and by the time he caught up to join the rush, the rush was over.
With the Canadiens emphasis on speed, four lines need to be able to play that way. Playing Deslauriers with Matthew Peca doesn’t allow Peca to use one of his top assets: Speed.
And it’s not like the Canadiens don’t have options. They have Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak as healthy scratches. And it’s not like Deslauriers is alone in this plight to get ice time. Hudon has had several games under 10 minutes as well. Where Deslauriers bumps his ice time with penalty kill time, Hudon does so on the second power play unit. Scherbak has yet to play in a single game in the regular season.
The mentality the Canadiens need to have is to have four balanced lines. If you don’t want Hudon or Scherbak on a fourth line, that’s fine. Joel Armia has had a solid start to the season but as Jesperi Kotkaniemi becomes more and more comfortable, it becomes more and more obvious that Armia is not skilled enough to take advantage of Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron on his line.
Claude Julien could conceivably solve this by putting one of the healthy scratches with Byron and Kotkaniemi and then Armia with Peca and Andrew Shaw on a fourth line that would have his trust in close games.
Deslauriers and Hudon are very different players. Hudon is very high-event (lots of shot attempts generated when he is on the ice on both sides) whereas Deslauriers is really low-event.
I can see the coach’s mentality that Deslauriers is a safer choice. But that’s not how he is being used by Julien. Obviously, if you are trailing, you don’t want him on the ice (as evidenced by his second period ice time) and if you are in a close game, Julien didn’t want him on the ice either (as evidenced by his third period ice time). So what good is the low event player if you don’t play him with a lead?
If you have a fourth line that you only trust to put out there for four face offs in an entire game when you have last change, you need to find a way to get a better fourth line in the lineup. Peca, it should be noted, won all four face offs he took on Tuesday.
The team is too deep to not have four lines the coach could use regularly. And it isn’t top heavy enough to rely on three lines. Finding the right balance needs to be the next step.