Preview: Montreal Canadiens (1-4-1) @ Los Angeles Kings (4-0-1)
How to Watch and What to Watch
Is there any team whose lack of success resonates more throughout the whole hockey world than Montreal’s? Maybe it’s just the circles I frequent online, but I don’t think a day has passed without seeing discussion about what the Canadiens are doing with Alex Galchenyuk, a center by trade who the team won’t trust in that position. Galchenyuk, who notched 30 goals in his 2015-16 campaign, has seen his totals decrease as his spot in the lineup gets tinkered with. Over six games, he’s got one point, and seems to be stuck on the fourth line.
For a team starved for goals -- they’ve got nine on the season -- you’d think they’d want to try to put good players in positions to succeed. There’s validity to the idea of sprinkling your goal scorers throughout your lineup, giving opposing coaches something to think about when they’re matching lines, particularly during the playoffs. But putting Galchenyuk on the fourth line with Torrey Mitchell (32 years old, has never scored more than 11 goals or 23 points in a season) and Ales Hemsky (34 years old, coming off an injury-shortened season in Dallas) isn’t doing anyone in Montreal any favors.
The tinkering with Galchenyuk isn’t the only problem, though. Carey Price’s play has been less than stellar so far. The Athletic’s Paul Campbell posted a great article today breaking down some goals against during the game in San Jose. (There are pictures and GIFs, if you’re not interested in reading.) There’s no doubt that Price will regain his form -- someone doesn’t just go from being one of the top goalies in the league to being a mistake-prone mess overnight -- but for the time being, a weak offense plus an unsteady defense plus an uncharacteristically sloppy Carey Price spells trouble for the Canadiens.
Being a low scoring team isn’t anything new to the Kings, the master of the 2-1 hockey game over the past several seasons. With their top line featuring a newly rejuvenated Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, and a power play that’s finally starting to convert on its chances, those games have opened up a little more.
Let’s just not talk too much about the third line, though, eh?
Okay, just a little bit.
As we’ve pointed out a few times around here lately, the third line has been particularly brutal, getting hammered in possession every night, no matter what three guys are skating out there. Jonny Brodzinski, a guy known for shooting the puck -- he still leads the St. Cloud State Huskies in shots per game (an average of 3.56) even though he hasn’t played there since 2014 -- had zero shots in three games, and has been sent back down to Ontario, hopefully to get his confidence back. Adrian Kempe keeps being slotted in as a center, despite winning only 22% of his faceoffs, and generating no offense, despite favorable zone starts. Mike Cammalleri hasn’t even shown a flash of being the depth guy who scores a few goals that he was with the Devils -- ten goals from a third liner should be good enough, but right now he’s nearly invisible.
While the common element of all the iterations of the third line has been Adrian Kempe -- and maybe the organization needs to rethink how they’re deploying their top prospect -- the team instead continues to tinker with the wingers, this time by bringing up Justin Auger. Auger is real big and not very fast, but if that line losing possession is because they’re not being physical enough with the puck, then he should at least be able to help address that.
With the Kings winning games -- they’re the only team that remains undefeated in regulation so far -- the idea of tinkering much with the lineup seems like it could do more harm than good. But finding a third line that clicks, is defensively responsible, and manages to score a few goals could go a long way to keeping the Kings from slipping back down into bubble team status.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Cammalleri - Kempe - Auger
Andreoff - Shore - Lewis
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
Fantenberg - Folin
Pacioretty - Drouin - Lehkonen
Byron - Plekanec - Gallagher
Hudon - Danault - Shaw
Galchenyuk - Mitchell - Hemsky
Mete - Weber
Alzner - Petry
Morrow - Davidson
Opposing Preview: Eyes on the Prize