The Montreal Canadiens haven’t had a ton of things that have drawn the ire of head coach Claude Julien so far this season. The biggest burr in the saddle for Julien has been the fourth line in recent weeks. His one wish was for them to “go out there and not get scored on.”
After a drubbing in New Jersey, the newly formed line of Michael Chaput, Kenny Agostino, and Nicolas Deslauriers heard their coach’s words loud and clear.
The fourth line punched in a shift-and-a-half in Buffalo, and did so against a white-hot Sabres top line that features both Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel; not exactly an easy matchup. On their first shift opposite Eichel’s trio, they hemmed the Sabres in the defensive zone. Then it happened again. And at times after that. Sitting in the stands, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things, or if the fourth line was playing incredibly well.
Based on the eye test, and the advanced metrics after the game, the Canadiens’ fourth line absolutely dominated the Sabres. All three forwards posted Corsi-for percentages of 64% or higher, with Chaputt cashing in at 73.9%.
This is a huge step for this group to build upon, especially with Paul Byron and Joel Armia still out injured. The Canadiens were very much in need of a group they could trust in this situation.
They forechecked fiercely, forcing the Sabres into making mistakes, and even without the skill of the other forward groups, they put the puck into dangerous spots. Agostino in particular showed off plenty of slick moves with his hands, and Deslauriers’ no-nonsense drive-the-net game works as a complement to that. They did everything they needed to in this game, except for scoring a goal, and it goes without saying that they badly wanted to light the lamp.
If this trio continues to play well, it might stabilize a weak spot, and forces a tough choice to be made on Matthew Peca. It’s hard to break this line up after that performance, and they can solidify themselves as the go-to option if they can continue their strong effort on Saturday evening.