The injury to P.A. Parenteau exposed a major flaw in Montreal's current lineup: the lack of right wing depth.
Many Canadiens fans celebrated when Brian Gionta was allowed to walk, given that he was obviously a player in decline. Unfortunately it was a necessary evil, seeing as Montreal wisely shied away from giving their former captain term, especially with a large cap hit. The Habs definitely could have used Gionta in the lineup this season, but there's no way a three-year term would have been a smart investment. Marc Bergevin made the right decision, although he made it knowing he was losing a good puck-possession player, a player that chipped in a goal every three to four games, even though he was generally used in a shutdown role.
As it stands, the Habs currently have three natural right wingers on their roster; Brendan Gallagher, P.A. Parenteau, and Dale Weise. Jiri Sekac plays both wings, although he seems to be a lot more comfortable playing on the left wing so far in his young NHL career.
Brendan Gallagher is the best of the group, although you'd be hard pressed to call him a first line right wing at this point in his career. Until he improves his play away from the puck, he should be accurately described as a top notch second line right winger.
Parenteau was more or less brought in to replace Gionta. His production under Michel Therrien has severely dipped, but prior to the trade he had been producing at a first line rate (top 90) for four straight seasons.
Weise, for all his qualities, is not first line material. He produced a handful of primary assists early this season when paired with Max Pacioretty, which is admirable, although it's far from the full story. In the current roster setup, Dale Weise is absolutely slaughtering the first line.
It's a tiny sample size, but the numbers are atrocious. Here's his even-strength Corsi throughout the three games he played alongside Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty.
|vs Islanders||vs Nashville||vs Dallas||Total||Avg. Corsi For%|
Weise was on the ice for 69 even-strength shot attempts against, whereas he only saw 31 shot attempts go towards the opposing net. Those type of numbers would be considered underwhelming for a fourth line player, let alone someone who's seeing top line minutes. Weise is a quality fourth line player, but there's absolutely no way he should be considered a good solution to the current right wing woes.
The offensive woes don't end there. Both Plekanec and Pacioretty have been struggling mightily since the addition of Weise to their line.
|vs Islanders||vs Nashville||vs Dallas||Total||Avg Corsi For%|
As you can see, the Dale Weise experiment has done a fantastic job in neutering production from the first line. Max Pacioretty tends to be a possession monster, but even his offensive prowess isn't enough to keep the line above water. It would be unfair to blame Weise for the situation. He's not in charge of setting the lineup, that's the coach's job. However it's clear as day that Weise simply isn't talented enough to play in a first line role.
For comparison's sake, here's what Pacioretty's chart looks like. To be fair, Pacioretty's PDO is also high, although that's mostly due to the lack of goals against when he's on the ice, and not an inflated shooting percentage like in Weise's case.
What can be done to remedy the situation? It's easier said than done, but there are a few interesting options available that would keep Brendan Gallagher on the second line, and maintain some balance in the lineup.
Therrien could give Jiri Sekac an opportunity to skate along some of the better players on the team. Sekac is overflowing with speed and creativity, but the truth is he's struggled any time he's played away from Lars Eller this season. With that in mind, it's definitely not a fool-proof solution, but considering the numbers Weise produced on the top line, I would wager that Sekac could do better, much better. It would be a gamble, but there's not much left to lose with the current roster configuration.
There are other internal options available, although they involve dismantling all the lines, again. There's something to be said about chemistry. By changing the lines every few games, you're not giving the players a reasonable chance to get to know their line mates.
It may sound like a cop-out, but it's starting to become apparent that Marc Bergevin needs to acquire another top six forward. There's only so much shuffling the coach can do, but when you're not working with enough quality pieces, there will always be glaring issues within the roster.
Until then, Therrien would be wise to remove Weise from the first line, and return him to the bottom six where he's excelled in the past.