With Sean Monahan’s health status still in question, Martin St-Louis may be forced to reevaluate the Montreal Canadiens lineup.
On Tuesday night the Canadiens played with just three centres: Jake Evans, Christian Dvorak, and Nick Suzuki. Despite winning 4-2, you’d be hard-pressed to argue a team can maintain its winning ways with just three centres in the lineup.
The Canadiens could examine the benefits of dismantling their top line, which would free up Kirby Dach to pick up second-line centre duties.
“It’s something we’re considering,” said St-Louis. “We have options, and we’ll evaluate them.”
St-Louis remains tight-lipped about the options, but he did mention he believes the confidence Dach built while playing on the wing with Cole Caufield and Suzuki would carry over to playing centre.
“It was very important to build his confidence from the get-go. He didn’t have to focus on weaknesses, he could work with his strengths.”
However, there’s one major concern when discussing the aforementioned weaknesses.
Despite a slight improvement at the faceoff dot this season, Dach has only managed to win a little under 35 percent of the faceoffs in which he’s partaken since the start of his career.
For the most part, the importance of faceoffs is oversold.
If a player like Dach can outshoot and out chance his opponents despite losing faceoffs, then it stands to assume the vast majority of his faceoff losses are of little to no consequence.
But every once in a while, a player is tasked with taking a crucial faceoff, and if a coach does not trust their chances of winning, the player simply won’t be used.
And thus, his value diminishes and his development stalls.
There’s also the matter of breaking up the only line the Montreal Canadiens have iced this season that has found the back of the net with any semblance of regularity.
“In this room, there’s a lot of good players,” said Dach. “You can find chemistry with everybody. It just happened that Cole, Nick and I clicked pretty fast. We’re not scoring as we did at the start, but we’re still generating a lot of chances. Our 5v5 game has been pretty solid.”
Dach, who has two points in his last four games, is the stabilizing factor on the line, one that has allowed them to go from a line that scored a lot but was outplayed regularly, to a line that scored a lot but also controlled the puck more often than their opponents, thus ensuring sustainability.
But if Monahan is not ready to play, sending Dach to the second line does seem like a logical option, especially if the goal is to develop him into a centre, his natural position.
“Yeah. I always gravitate to that centre position,” said Dach. “I want to play centre and be a centre. But it’s more for Marty and the coaching staff to pick and choose where we play in the lineup. It’s not a big adjustment. Just faceoffs and different responsibilities defensively.”
One could easily argue that the two adjustments mentioned are rather big, but at the same time, they’re only made possible through experience and opportunities.
If Dach can establish a stalwart presence at both ends of the ice as a centre, the Canadiens could have the foundation of two solid lines in the works.
Of course, that does create a gap on the top line, one that could be filled by a player that has improved by leaps and bounds since St-Louis blessed him with a little more ice time.
“He gets more touches. And that’s a sign you’re thinking about where you are without the puck,” said St-Louis. “I just feel he’s touching the puck more. It’s a sign of growth.
A promotion to the top line may seem a little hasty, but at the very least, it would ensure consistent ice time for the youngest player in the league.
The Canadiens must avoid leaving him as the odd-man out if the lineup blender comes out of the cupboard.
Alternatively, the Canadiens could also look to the Laval Rocket’s Anthony Richard, who just happens to lead the AHL in goal-scoring with 15. He is a centre, and although he’s mostly played as a winger in the AHL, it could give St-Louis an option that wouldn’t lead to a complete forward shuffle.
We’ll have to keep a close eye on the lines at practice because it seems even the players themselves have no clues to offer.
“I don’t know, I just go out there and play, whether I’m centre or wing,” said Dach. “There’s different responsibilities in different positions. But I just go out there and play.”