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Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens St-Louis Discusses Unbalanced Lineup, Robidas’ Role



Canadiens coach St-Louis

The Montreal Canadiens will face the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night with just 11 forwards in the lineup.

It’s the fifth consecutive game in which head coach Martin St-Louis will have to deal with an unbalanced combination of players.

The situation came to the forefront on July 17th, when the Canadiens announced star forward Cole Caufield would miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury, putting an exclamation mark on the sheer volume of players on the mend.

And while no coach will ever say they enjoy playing with a depleted lineup, St-Louis does see a silver lining, especially when it comes to the opportunities provided for the numerous rookies playing on the Canadiens’ blue line.

Ironically, Jonathan Kovacevic, arguably the most consistent rookie in the mix, will not face the Red Wings, as veteran Chris Wideman returns to the lineup.

“The reality is, based on what we have going up front with the injuries, is that we have the luxury to keep a young defenceman in a jersey on game nights,” said St-Louis.

For the most part, St-Louis gives defensive coach Stephane Robidas free rein, bowing to his superior knowledge of the position, owing to his 15 year’s worth of experience in the NHL as a defenceman.

“I know it’s a challenge for Robidas to work with seven defencemen,” he said. “He needs to make sure guys don’t sit on the bench too long. Maybe when he’s more comfortable we’ll go back to six defencemen,”

St-Louis’ comment about Robidas’ comfort was stated with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, which elicited several laughs, but in every sarcastic comment, there’s an element of truth.

In this case, the coaches would prefer to deal with a normal lineup, which already presents significant challenges on a nightly basis.

Playing with an unbalanced lineup simply adds to the complicated season the coaching staff is attempting to navigate.

“I think we manage it pretty well,” said St-Louis. “Who knows when we’ll go back to 12 forwards and 6 defencemen, I think it’ll happen organically, as guys get healthy and stuff. We’ll see.”

In other words, there do not seem to be any plans to fix the problem, and there’s a possibility it’ll extend to the All-Star Break when players like Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin should return to the lineup.

And while teams like the Seattle Kraken enjoy the great output from waiver claim Eeli Tolvanen, a talented player the Canadiens could have acquired for free, the team is more focused on maximizing their trade deadline cap space, to the detriment of their current lineup.

“It’s the situation we’re in,” explained St-Louis. “It’s a way to maximize what we’re trying to do right now, without trying to disrupt our ultimate goal, which is to win a game.”

It’s not the first time St-Louis has had to deal with a roster issue this season.

Prior to the endless stream of injuries, the Canadiens had an excess of forwards, which left a few veterans disgruntled.

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Curtis Ault

While the Habs are going with 11 and 7, what would it hurt to throw Xhekaj up front for a look see?