Desharnais may be key to Canadiens’ balanced scoring

The Ottawa Senators got goals from Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman to down the Montreal Canadiens in preseason action.

As part of a poll the Montreal Canadiens took at the onset of training camp, the players were asked who they thought was the most underrated among them.

Forward Dale Weise was one of many who voted for centreman David Desharnais.

If Desharnais is widely respected within the Canadiens’ dressing room, it’s outside of it that he has faced a disproportionate amount of criticism.

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, in the fall of 2013, begged the Canadiens to send Desharnais to their AHL affiliate in Hamilton, piling on the player while he was entrenched in a career-worst 19-game scoreless slump.

He’s since scored 99 points in 142 regular season games, but that hasn’t stopped a constant refrain of “get rid of this guy” from escalating among Canadiens fans on social media from week to week.

“For whatever it is, I just don’t think he gets enough credit here,” said Weise Friday. “He takes a lot of flak. The fans say, ‘he’s not a top-line centre’ but he’s been our top line centre for two years and rightfully so. He’s so easy to play with.”

There were murmurs when general manager Marc Bergevin announced at the Canadiens’ annual golf tournament that Alex Galchenyuk would be making the move to centre for the 2015-16 season. It was thought that Desharnais would be moved to wing or that — to the delight of his critics — he’d perhaps be traded.

But as the first practice got underway at training camp, there was Desharnais at centre slotted behind veteran Tomas Plekanec and Galchenyuk in the depth chart. And it’s from there that he’s had a more impressive showing than anyone else at camp, leading the team in pre-season scoring with a goal and three assists in three games.

The chemistry between Weise and Desharnais has been there since last season, and it’s only grown during training camp with tryout Tomas Fleischmann joining the duo. All three players hope to offer the Canadiens balanced scoring that wasn’t there for most of the 2014-15 season.

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“The chemistry is there,” affirmed Therrien. “Fleischmann is a smart player, he plays really well on both sides of the ice, he’s really responsible on the ice. Davey is having a good camp — I’m glad for him; he’s got a lot of jump and he’s got a lot of poise with that puck. And Weise is a hard-nose guy with speed.”

Though the trio’s skills are complimentary, his linemates say it’s Desharnais who holds the key to the their success.

“He wins a lot of faceoffs from what I’ve seen so far and he’s pretty fast in the middle, so it’s easy to see him on the ice,” said Fleischmann.

Weise lauds Desharnais’ ability to do it all on both sides of the puck, to win one-on-one battles by taking advantage of his low centre of gravity, and his vision in setting up the play. He calls Desharnais a dual threat in that he can shoot as well as he can pass, even if he’s relied more on the latter throughout his career.

“We both said to each other we’re going to try to shoot more this season,” said Weise.

Even with Fleischmann waiting for a contract, the sense is that these three players are going to stick together. Weise remarked that he can’t remember a camp where he’s spent the entire time on one line, but since the experiment has gone so smoothly, Therrien hasn’t had a reason to split them up.

“It’s not because they have a bad shift that we’re going to change it,” said Therrien. “We want to make sure that we’re going to still try to work with that line because I like what we saw. They give us a lot of depth offensively.”

If they can follow through on Therrien’s vision, Desharnais may shed a few of his critics before long.

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