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The Canadiens’ fourth-line problems are affecting them at two levels

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The Montreal fourth line has been established as a liability, but it’s also affecting the Laval Rocket.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The problems that the Montreal Canadiens’ fourth line has been having have been well documented, and that came to a head in Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The line of Matthew Peca, Michael Chaput, and Nicolas Deslauriers played just about six minutes of five-on-five hockey. In that span, they were on the ice for two shot attempts at Frederik Andersen, while their opponents let 11 shots fire on Carey Price (for a team-low Corsi For% of 15%). They didn’t get a shot on goal, and they allowed seven. They didn’t get a scoring chance and allowed five.

But perhaps most damning is that they allowed two goals.

A fourth line is like a third pairing. If they give you solid minutes and don’t cost you, it’s a solid game for them. And Montreal’s fourth line just hasn’t done that enough.

And it isn’t for a lack of trying. Claude Julien has had several combinations with the current pool of Peca, Chaput, Deslauriers, Charles Hudon, and Kenny Agostino. And what’s clear through the trying is that none of them are working. Adding Tomas Plekanec, Andrew Shaw, and Paul Byron gives you 12 different fourth line combinations for the season.

It’s not only providing an achilles heel for the Canadiens, either. It’s also hurting the Laval Rocket, the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate. Now, hurting your AHL affiliate for the benefit of the NHL team is normal. But right now it’s not benefitting either one. And it’s time for a change.

Agostino and Chaput are still among the top scorers for the Rocket this season despite playing under 12 and 18 games respectively. The Rocket are also without Michael McCarron, who suffered a season-ending injury. All five of the players currently on the fourth line rotation would immediately help the Rocket.

Players returning from injury will help. Once Paul Byron returns, they will have to send someone down, at this point likely Kenny Agostino. If they acquire someone at the deadline, that’s another player who can go on waivers to help the Rocket. Byron’s return also puts someone from the current top nine on the fourth line, which will also help (assuming the revolving door of injuries stops).

The acquisition of Dale Weise may also help. Weise could be perfect for a fourth line in this run-and-gun approach. He’s currently in the AHL as he has cleared waivers and I don’t think he’d be recalled until someone else clears waivers. The Rocket can’t afford to lose another forward without one coming back.

No matter what the combination, the fourth line will need to be better and the five options they currently have not showed they can get the job done. The fourth line simply shouldn’t get dominated like that when you have last change.

There are people who will read this and say ‘the fourth line being the biggest problem is a good thing’ and they’d be right. But this Canadiens team has proven to be a playoff contender and they’re in a position to improve this without costing them a lot.

Good teams will fix this problem to give them a better chance at the playoffs and, surprising or not, the Canadiens are a good team.