After officially clinching a playoff spot, the Montreal Canadiens have the next five games to prepare for the post-season. In that time the Habs will need to do a few things, in order to have the best on-ice product. These things include finally giving Carey Price, and other veterans like Andrei Markov and Shea Weber some much needed rest. Another thing the Habs need to analyze is where will Alex Galchenyuk play in the playoffs. As well as will the red-hot third line stay intact come playoff time.
Montreal Canadiens Playoff Preparations Begin Now
Price deserves rest
Carey Price, who returned this season after missing all but 12 games in 2015-16, needs some rest before the playoffs. Price has played in 59 of the team’s 77 games so far this season and as well as playing three games at the World Cup of Hockey. This season has been a tale of two segments for the all-star netminder.
The first being the superstar goalie that we are used to seeing which was apparent earlier in the season. It has also returned over the month of March. However, in January and February, Price was far from being the same goalie. He was posting numbers sub .900 in multiple games during that period.
There are two factors that play a huge role in when Price turned his game around. The first being that following the team’s bye-week, the Canadiens hired Claude Julien to be the head coach. This coaching change seemed to spark the whole team but Price’s game seemed to improve off more than the change. Leading up to the break, Price was looking exhausted in his net, many experts claimed he would benefit most from the break. As it turned out, they were right, Price looked refreshed in net again.
In his five games prior to the break, he posted .878 save percentage. While the five games following the break, he put up a .965 save percentage. Since then, Price’s save percentage has fallen from the obviously unsustainable .965, but he has been a lot more consistent than the January-February stretch. Rest will help make Price more valuable to his team in the long run. With the fact that games don’t matter as much until the playoffs, he should get at least two of the five remaining games off.
Giving the First Pairing a rest
While, Andrei Markov and Shea Weber have been playing some great hockey together as of late, it wouldn’t hurt for each to get a night off. For the 38-year old Markov, the playoffs might tire him out quickly if he has to continue playing top pairing minutes each night.
Although, he has had less responsibilities with Jordie Benn taking over his penalty kill duties. It would be good to rest Markov for a game or two in order to give his legs a boost in the playoffs. Markov recently tied Guy Lapointe for second all-time in scoring for Habs defensemen. He has looked very good for the Canadiens in the last year of his contract. However, with his age being a factor he is likely to be more effective with some extra rest before the playoffs.
While, Weber is only 31, he has logged up plenty of heavy minutes for his new club. He has showed the Habs that he can be very effective in his own zone and an excellent addition to the power-play. However, he has shown signs of fatigue at certain moments during the season. Much like Carey Price, Weber is a workhorse but he also needs a break. In order, to truly get the best of Weber in the playoffs the must rest him for a game or two.
Where will Galchenyuk play?
Since coming back from injury in late January, Galchenyuk has had his fair share of ups and downs. He was given his chance to play a full season at centre for the first time this season. Early on, he didn’t disappoint. At the time of his knee injury in December, Galchenyuk was top 15 in NHL scoring. However, he struggled when he got back into the lineup. He had seemed to lost his confidence under Michel Therrien, being relegated to the second line. However, Julien gave Galchenyuk another shot on the top line, where he started piling up assists. Then he found himself back into a slump with line-mates Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty.
This forced Julien to make some changes which saw Galchenyuk moved to the left wing on the second line. Pacioretty and Radulov are centred by Phillip Danault, while Andrew Shaw is centering a line with Galchenuk and Artturi Lehkonen.
With the top nine producing well at the moment, it’s hard to see if Galchenyuk will get his shot at centre again. One issue with where Galchenyuk is playing, is that he can’t produce the same offense from the wing. He likes to use open ice to create scoring chances. While, he was pushed to the wing partially for his lack of defensive abilities, it has backfired. Galchenyuk plays better at centre.
What to Do With the Third Line
The best case scenario for Galchenyuk and the Habs would be to centre the second line in the playoffs. The Paul Byron–Tomas Plekanec– Brendan Gallagher line has been great together but how long will it last?
While, that line has been playing great lately, Tomas Plekanec doesn’t have the offense in him anymore. Once that line cools down, they will need an offensive-minded centre which is where Galchenyuk comes in.
It can be said that Galchenyuk has always had great chemistry with Gallagher since he came into the league. He also found chemistry with Byron earlier this season. The trio would form a great second line behind Pacioretty-Danault-Radulov. It could even potentially be just as good offensively. Having Galchenyuk play as a playmaker and sniper, Gallagher as the net presence and Byron for the speed.
Then Plekanec can centre a checking line with Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen, which would be great to shutdown opposing teams’ top lines. Despite losing his scoring touch, Plekanec is still very effective at shutting down opposing players. Shaw and Lehkonen can also play a great defensive game when needed. They could also produce when needed which gives the Habs some good depth.
Can the Habs go far?
If the Canadiens at least give Carey Price, Shea Weber, and Andrei Markov some rest ahead of the playoffs, they will be successful. However, in order to win games in the playoffs, you need “to win the middle.” By not having Alex Galchenyuk in the middle it will really weaken the Habs centre position in the playoffs. Therefore, it must be done so that they can make a run at the cup.
Having a shutdown third line with Tomas Plekanec at centre will also help the defensive side of the Habs game. All in all, the Habs could go far if all goes right for them.
Main Photo: Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher (R) celebrates his first period goal with teammates Shea Weber (L) and Alex Galchenyuk as the Canadiens take on the Buffalo Sabres in their season opener at the KeyBank Centre in Buffalo, New York, October 13, 2016. Photo credit GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images.