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Know Your Enemy: The Habs and their lineup, with EOTP

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Our friends at EOTP meet up once again to talk about the Habs!

NHL: Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

I got in touch with Jared Book and Scott Matla of Eyes on the Prize to discuss the Habs, and their current lineup, and things as they’ve developed over the past couple of days.

Comments on the most recent lines from Habs practice? Anything you like, anything you don’t?

Jared: The most frustrating thing is the stubbornness to not play Alex Galchenyuk at center. It’s not like things are going well. They are looking for answers [At Center] and I feel personally not at least trying that at this stage is hurting the team.

The first step in that is moving Jonathan Drouin back to wing, and I think that his production will probably increase but having the two of them with Jacob De La Rose just seems like a waste. I like De La Rose, and he can skate well enough to keep up, but I mean…this is the time to try things. If it doesn’t work, it’s not like you’re ruining something that is working. They have nothing to lose and still aren’t trying it. It’s frustrating.

Having said that, I like the Canadiens top nine. I think they have 10-11 guys who are legitimate top nine NHL players (although that counts Phillip Danault and Andrew Shaw whose injuries hurt), and then they have guys like Nicolas Deslauriers who is playing really well on the fourth line exceeding expectations.

Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon and Paul Byron are three guys who just work no matter what line they are put on and it’s a great asset to have. Daniel Carr is another guy I really like who seems to be flexible although not to the level of the others.

Scott: There’s a line featuring a drafted center, and this years de-facto 1C for the Habs, playing on the wings with an at best defensive 4c between them and I just don’t know how that happens. I don’t know if it’s Claude Julien being stubborn or if Marc Bergevin forbade it, but Galchenyuk not being played down the middle at this point is insulting to fans. I also assume Logan Shaw will slide into Froese’s spot or something since he’s supposed to be joining the team in Boston ahead of their next game, but it’s not exactly going to do much, like deck chairs on the Titanic.

I didn’t like Drouin at C if it meant a natural C got pushed out, and now they’re moving him to the wing without moving the natural center back in his place, it’s incomprehensibly mindblowing. A team missing one of their best pivots due to a puck to the head would rather play a guy who has a career total of 11 points instead of their former top 3 pick.

Paul Byron is currently #1 Center for the Habs. What about Paul Byron’s game do you think has gotten him to be where he is, other than need?

Jared: Paul Byron is one of those guys who is that prototypical small player who always had to work harder than anyone else.

He started his time in Montreal as a healthy scratch behind Alex Semin. By the end of that season he was a regular, and the next year he scored 20 goals. Did he get more of an opportunity in Montreal? Sure. Is he a top line guy? Probably not. But in a setup where a team goes with a four-line balanced approach he’s a huge asset. He can play all three forward positions, and he could play on any line and not look out of place. He has been on every line and played with every centre this year, and now he is a centre with Danault out.

Scott: Byron came to Montreal as a defensive fourth liner, who seems to have found his offensive chops in the past two years. His speed alone makes him an incredibly dangerous asset, so even if he falls out of his coverage, he can easily get back into the play if needed. His uncanny knack for scoring timely goals for Claude Julien likely hasn’t hurt at all.

Thoughts on the defense pairings? Do you see any solutions for the Habs Blueline?

Jared: As for the defence, I feel this is their best possible set up. It’s a dire group. It’s not very good. At it’s worst it’s a slow defence that can’t move the puck and lose coverage. It’s hard to tell how much of that is personnel and how much of it is bad coaching or systems.

I feel the set up they have now with Victor Mete, Jakub Jerabek and Jeff Petry all on different pairings helps alleviate that. They are all guys who can move the puck well and it is one of the reasons Montreal is playing better of late. Mete, especially, looks like a different player since coming back from the World Juniors. The biggest issue with the Canadiens is that they are somewhat locked in with Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn and whenever Shea Weber comes back, it will probably be one of Mete, Jerabek or David Schlemko to sit and I’m not sure that is the right move.

Either way, the defence is the biggest weakness on this team. When you’re relying on a 19-year old fourth-round pick and a 28 year-old rookie from the KHL, you have issues.

They got rid of P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu, Mark Barberio, Brandon Davidson and Mikhail Sergachev in the last two years. On their own, none of those moves absolutely hurt you. But losing six NHL defencemen who are built for moving the puck hurts especially when that is the biggest weakness on the current team.

Scott: Montreal has roughly one billion dollars in cap space, if they can integrate some of their youth like Victor Mete or Noah Juulsen going forward they’ll be alright. Then with all that cap space there are three major names coming up that they can conceiveably afford in Drew Doughty(Unlikely), Oliver Ekman-Larsson assuming he isn’t traded for pennies on the dollar by John Chayka, and of course Erik Karlsson. These are all pipe dreams for the time being, but landing any of them would likely undo much of the ineptitude Marc Bergevin has created. For the time being however, Claude Julien needs to let Victor Mete eat more minutes in the top four alongside either Shea Weber or Jeff Petry, same deal with Jakub Jerabek.

Until those big fish UFA targets come up however, Carey Price is going to need to stay on red alert whenever someone challenges Karl Alzner’s side of the ice, because at it stands his contract has been absolutely disastrous. Petry is trying to carry him to respectable stats, but that’s a gargantuan task for many people, let alone one in a system that has struggled mightily in defensive coverage so far this year.