Canadiens Mailbag: Where does Max Domi line up when play resumes?

Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi spoke about how the team handled his health concerns and the risk he's taking in joining his teammates for practices leading up to games.

BROSSARD, Que.— Let’s dig right into the Montreal Canadiens mail here, starting with a doozy.

Brian was the first to ask weathis question, but it came to me in various iterations.

If I was the head coach — and the Canadiens should be thankful I’m not — I would keep the top two lines they’ve been practising with (Tomas TatarPhillip DanaultBrendan Gallagher and Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia) intact, and I would have Max Domi lineup with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen.

I think centre responsibilities can be shared in that scenario. I think Domi and Kotkaniemi could complement each other well in the offensive zone. And I think Lehkonen adds that steady defensive component, but also is a player who played significant portions of the last two seasons with each player.

That would make Jordan Weal the centre of a line that has Paul Byron and Dale Weise as wingers.

Now, if you’re asking me what Claude Julien intends to do, it’s a much harder question to answer. Especially since he didn’t speak with media members on Friday.

To see Domi between Weal and Weise on what most people would consider to be the team’s fourth line — and with just one practice remaining prior to the Canadiens leaving for Toronto — is somewhat perplexing. I feel it means one of two things: that Domi, after having missed the first week of camp, is being given time to work his way into the spot Kotkaniemi is currently occupying between Byron and Lehkonen. Or, that Julien intends on rolling four lines that he feels are as equally balanced as possible.

And if it is the second reason, it’s a strategy that I believe could work. Montreal’s system is a speed-driven and highly demanding system, and if he builds his lines in such a way that he’d feel comfortable with any one of them being on the ice against any of the opposition’s best players, he can ensure his system gets executed the way he wants to see it executed.

It would make sense for Julien to do this, given that Pittsburgh has home-ice advantage and last change for the first two games and the deciding one (if necessary).

Now, perhaps everything we’ve seen changes come Saturday.

But I’m not expecting it will. For the entirety of this camp, the top three lines have remained unchanged (and that’s obviously discounting that Danault was separated from the group for a short while).

Here’s another conclusion that I feel is safe to draw at this stage: no Canadiens player has more to lose in the team’s only exhibition game than Kotkaniemi. He’ll need to play exceptionally well to keep his spot — not only on his current line, but in the lineup.

Bias aside, I don’t think it’s accurate to suggest that Weal or Weise — or anyone else who dresses on the team’s fourth line — can’t read or complete the plays Kotkaniemi will
make.

If he were to be placed with those players, they have a combined 731 games of regular-season experience and 41 games of Stanley Cup-playoff experience, which is a heck of a lot more experience than Kotkaniemi has. And they’re both capable players who have shown they have the offensive wherewithal to play with anyone else on the team.

And, with respect to Kotkaniemi’s development and his confidence, just being included on the roster should be good for him. Anything else here is a bonus considering how his season went and where he was expected to line up before he came to camp and started off on the right foot.

It starts with an Alexis and ends with a Lafreniere.

I think Cale Fleury has separated himself from the pack to get an inside track to the right side of the third defence pairing.

And don’t view this as some sort of diplomatic answer; I’m not sure who out of Fleury, Noah Juulsen or Josh Brook has the brightest future. They all bring different elements and all figure to be NHLers.

I think Fleury brings the best balance of offence, defence, puck-moving and skating of the three. I think Juulsen could prove to be the most reliable one. And I think Brook is the best skater and most offensively gifted one.

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

Hi Mark. Appreciate the kind words.

I think it’s too early to predict what will happen with the NCAA. I do believe they’ll do everything they can to complete a season, but a lot is up in the air at the moment.

One thing is certain: the Canadiens will do whatever they have to in order to ensure Cole Caufield gets the most relevant game experience he can so he’s that much more prepared to join their team when they come calling.

I don’t believe the team has any expectations going into this 24-team tournament.

The Canadiens are the 24th seed. And even if they know that any success they have will be tied to Carey Price’s performance, they also know that he can’t be expected to carry them without any help.

Go back to last time the Canadiens were in the playoffs — in 2017 against the New York Rangers — and Price posted a .933 save percentage and stood on his head. And that performance didn’t even get the team to seven games (they lost in six).

That said, obviously management isn’t going to be particularly thrilled if the team plays exceptionally well and Price proves unreliable. But even something like that could boil down to the uniqueness of this unprecedented situation.

And the Canadiens aren’t looking to trade Price one way or the other.

I’ll concede that moving Price’s contract down the line would prove difficult with a stagnant cap — or even with a slowly escalating one — and it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain anything valuable in return if they tried to trade him following a disappointing stint.

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Jonathan Drouin.

He looks like the guy who started the season like a house on fire and much less like the guy who looked incredibly uncomfortable on the ice following wrist surgery.

Drouin’s skating really well, he’s making excellent plays, and his shot appears to be back where it was before his injury in November.

Perhaps of equal importance is that he looks like he’s having a lot of fun on the ice.

Well, John Lu definitely wins the formal category.

But to answer your question, I’d probably go with J.F. Chaumont, from Le Journal de Montreal. The guy wears so much Lacoste, you’d think he was sponsored.

Might have to disqualify Chaumont on the shoe selection, though. Not sure he’s bought a new pair in the last few years.

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