The reasoning behind why Michel Therrien builds and deploys his lines the way he does is up for debate, because from the outside looking in, a lot of it doesn't make much sense. What we can be sure of though, is that through four games of playoff hockey, Therrien has thrown his third line to the woodshed repeatedly in order to generate more offense from the David Desharnais line.
In some ways, this has worked. Therrien has been able to get the Desharnais starting 69.23% of their shifts in the offensive zone, but the results have been decidedly mixed. Desharnais himself has been on for just a 52.43% share of shot attempts at even strength, and the only goal that line has produced, leading to the only even strength point for Desharnais and Devante Smith-Pelly, was one neither of them were really involved in.
Yes, Smith-Pelly grabs a loose puck Desharnais battled for, but he just threw it to open ice. It was P.K. Subban's rocket shot that turned a fairly pedestrian play into a goal.
Meanwhile, the third line has started a shockingly low 14.29% of their shifts in the offensive zone, and produced zero points at even strength, with Lars Eller's only goal coming shorthanded.
What's surprising in all this, is that one player who is getting an increasing amount of criticism is Jacob de la Rose. Unlike Eller, who has somehow kept his shot attempt differential positive in spite of his usage, de la Rose is visibly struggling with the harsh deployment he's been given by his coach, with a shot attempt differential of 44.68%.
There's no question that de la Rose's production (or lack there of) has been underwhelming, but he's also 19-years-old, and playing an insanely tough role with 16% offensive zone starts, and alongside Eller, playing against Ottawa's top forwards. There's only so much that can be expected of this kid, and he's not being put in a situation to succeed. If fan ire needs to be pointed somewhere, it should be at those who are given every opportunity to produce, and don't.
The bigger struggle
While de la Rose has been ripped for not producing much, Smith-Pelly has been earning praise early in the playoffs for... Well, he hasn't really done anything. Given a plum gig riding shotgun with Max Pacioretty (who clearly is still not 100%) and David Desharnais to the tune of 63.89% offensive zone starts and the second lowest quality of competition on the team, Smith-Pelly has been throwing his weight around noisily, while generating very little.
Surprisingly, in spite of the second softest usage on the roster aside from David Desharnais, Smith-Pelly has the worst shot attempt differential of any forward at 44.57%. You'll note that it's not that different from de la Rose, but one is facing top competition and extreme defensive deployment, while the other is given every opportunity for success, yet they have near-identical results.
Smith-Pelly is also racking up over three minutes per game on the powerplay, and although he has produced some chances there, he has nothing to show for it.
The gap in opportunity for these two players is gargantuan, while the gap in quality of output is almost nothing. Unfortunately, most fans and even media have trouble recognizing quality defensive play, which leads to criticism of the young Swede, and praise for the big hits that are frequently occurring after the puck is gone from Smith-Pelly.
In the role that he's playing, de la Rose is not going to help the Canadiens win many games, it's simply too much, too fast, and Therrien needs to recognize this. However placing players in the wrong spots is a hallmark of this coaching staff, and Therrien hinted that he wasn't going to alter his lineup at all for game four, even to insert a bonafide offensive talent like P.A. Parenteau. So once again, it seems like the Habs are in "Hope Carey Price saves us" mode.