Canadiens introduce their fourth-line wrecking crew
Colby Armstrong (pictured) and Brandon Prust will be flanking grinding centre Ryan White on the Canadiens fourth line. (QMI Agency)
If you want one number that helps explain why the Montreal Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference last season and 28th overall, it’s 16.
That’s the number of wins they had at the Bell Centre in 2011-12, the fewest wins at home by any team in the NHL.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Canadiens were wimps at home.
They were too easy to play against.
NHL players had to love coming here. There are the obvious reasons — Montreal has always been a hospitable place to visiting players, I’ve heard — and it also became an easy place to pick up two points.
The Canadiens will try and change that reality starting Saturday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
New general manager Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien — back for his second go behind the Canadiens bench as he replaces Randy Cunneyworth — have reconstructed the club’s fourth line and it should go towards making the Habs tougher to play against, especially at home.
Free agent forwards Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust will be flanking grinding centre Ryan White. The fourth line has long been a bit of a black hole for the Habs, but now Therrien should be able to play four lines on a regular basis, something that will be valuable in the crush of a 48-game schedule.
With Prust, Armstrong and White running around, the Bell Centre should be rocking and give the Canadiens a little bit more of a home-ice advantage.
“I’m excited to watch those guys play whether we’re at home or on the road, but especially at home. When they are out there doing their thing, the crowd is going to be roaring. They are going to be fun to watch,” said Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges.
“The great thing about those guys is they play hard, they play physical, they play in your face, but these guys aren’t slugs. They can make plays. They can help on the offensive side of things. That’s what’s going to make them such a great line.”
There were too many times last season when the Canadiens would spiral downward after a few shifts. They weren’t good at responding after goals were scored against them or couldn’t maintain momentum when they did the scoring.
Having a line like they have now with Prust-White-Armstrong, Therrien has the option of sticking them out there in those situations.
“They can turn the tide. If we have a couple of bad shifts, a bad power play, we know what the fans are like here. They expect lots,” said Gorges. “If things aren’t going in the right direction, boom, throw that line out there and they can change the momentum of a game in one shift. That’s why I’m excited to see them play.”
The key to strong play both at home and on the road is goaltending and Carey Price will need to be better than he was last season. It looks like he is battling a groin issue already and wasn’t on the ice Friday, having what Therrien called a “therapy day.” Price looked like he hurt himself making a stop in the shootout at the end of Thursday night’s intrasquad game and said he has been feeling sore.
But according to Therrien, Price dissuaded any fear.
“‘Don’t worry, coach, I’ll be there,’” Therrien said Price told him.
When it comes to the fans, players, anyone in Monteal — the Bell Centre will be hopping Saturday night. Emotion won’t be a problem.
“Any time you get Toronto and Montreal on a Saturday night, the intensity is going to be there,” said Gorges. “It’s going to be electric in here (Saturday) night. Everybody is going to be jacked up to play. The importance is going to be who keeps their composure. There are going to be mistakes. There is going to be sloppy play, some chaos out there.”
Sixteen wins at home was pretty pathetic last year.
As it turns out, in a 48-game schedule, 16 this year would be a nice improvement.
HABS GO WITH GALCHENYUK
It’s been a pretty good run for Alex Galchenyuk.
And it just got better for the 18-year-old.
Galchenyuk will be in the Montreal Canadiens lineup when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre Saturday night.
“It’s crazy what’s happened with me in the last couple of months,” said Galchenyuk, taken third overall by the Habs at the 2012 entry draft from the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting.
“I started producing really well in Sarnia then I won the gold medal in world juniors (with Team USA) and now playing my first NHL game (Saturday) so I can’t be happier, that’s for sure.”
Galchenyuk, 6-foot-1 with soft hands, will play left wing on the Habs’ second line with Tomas Plekanec and captain Brian Gionta.
He wasn’t pencilled in to start the season with the club, but earned the spot with his performance in the short training camp.
“We started the camp with an open mind,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “That was kind of our plan. He was not part of it. We’ll see what was going to happen. We gave him a good chance and saw how he was reacting over the course of the week. The more that we saw him play, the more we feel that he was comfortable. It’s good news for him.
“He was really excited. It’s always a good feeling when you sit down with Marc (Bergevin, the Habs’ rookie GM) and you let him know you’re going to play your first NHL game (Saturday).”
The Habs also kept feisty little Brendan Gallagher and grinder Michael Blunden, who had been playing in Hamilton with the American Hockey League’s Bulldogs, but of the trio, only Galchenyuk is expected to play Saturday night.
“They told me when I came here to have fun and don’t put pressure on yourself. That’s what I did and it turned out I had a pretty good camp. I’m playing (Saturday) so I’m really happy about that,” said Galchenyuk, who will wear number 27.
The Habs can play Galchenyuk for five games before making a decision on whether to keep him and burn a year of his entry level contract or send him back to Sarnia.
It sure sounds like they are leaning towards keeping him as there have been discussions about having him live with an established teammate rather than let him face Montreal alone.
“As great as this city is, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble,” said Canadiens veteran defenceman Josh Gorges. “You can do things that you think are harmless and you’re really not hurting anybody else, but public perception and what you see in the media is a lot different than what you think you’re doing, so there’s a lot to learn early about how to handle yourself off the ice.”
Will the Habs make the playoffs in 2013?