Bottom Six Minutes: Leave the top line alone

The decision to remove Dach from the first line was proven wrong within the first game of doing it.

The Montreal Canadiens may have lost to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, but they learned another valuable lesson in the process. Sometimes in hockey, you have a line that just works. Can’t miss. When things get tough, you may be tempted to take from that line in service of improving others. It either works, or hurts the team by cleaving off a piece of its most productive trio.

The latter was true with the Habs removing Kirby Dach from the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield against the Kings.

Dating back to last season, we’ve seen a large enough sample of Josh Anderson with Suzuki and Caufield to know it doesn’t work consistently. They’ve had success in short bursts, but those bursts always belied overall ineffectiveness. As such, plenty of eyebrows were raised at Martin St-Louis’s decision to go back to that well ahead of Saturday’s game.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work, to the point where St-Louis recognized it during the game and went back to what does. With Anderson, the top line was caved in at even-strength, scored on, and couldn’t generate anything offensively. With Dach, they were arguably the best the Habs had to offer, and scored a goal, albeit late in an ill-fated comeback attempt.

The good news is that St-Louis recognized his own error. In the past, we’ve seen the line blender come out and yield every combination under the sun. He was willing to admit his own error — and correct it mid-game — rather than break out the line blender and try every combination under the sun. It was refreshingly different from what we’ve seen out of past coaches.

The bad news is that the Habs just don’t have an answer outside of Dach, Suzuki, and Caufield carrying them offensively. When they hit, the Habs tend to win. If they don’t, they tend to lose. If you separate them, not only will the team struggle to score at all, they’ll probably lose spectacularly.

Luckily, this is a rebuilding season, so the losses don’t sting as much as they would otherwise. Still, even the losses look better when that top line is left as it is.

Click the play button below to listen to your full Bottom Six Minutes, also available wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll have Sunday off, and return when the Habs host the Calgary Flames on Monday night at the Bell Centre.

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