The Montreal Canadiens can’t be altogether displeased with taking half the points available to them on what has to be considered the toughest road trip of their season.
But the West Coast games against Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles — of which the Canadiens only took one — only served to further expose an obvious hole this team has at the centre position.
That hole was widened in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues when David Desharnais, who was replacing leading scorer Alex Galchenyuk on the top line, jammed his knee into the boards while trying to hit defenceman Jay Bouwmeester in the third period.
Desharnais didn’t return, just as Galchenyuk hadn’t the game previous after a third-period collision with Kings captain Anze Kopitar. The timing of his injury couldn’t have been worse.
To say his team was facing an uphill battle before the puck even dropped in St. Louis would be understating it. The task seemed downright insurmountable with backup goaltender Al Montoya starting and Galchenyuk out while facing the team with the Western Conference’s best home record.
And yet the Canadiens did everything in their power to dismantle those preconceived notions, registering a two-goal lead on the strength of Tomas Plekanec’s unexpected offensive outbreak.
He hadn’t scored a goal in 13 games, hadn’t scored one in the road since last March, and was stuck on one through Montreal’s first 25 games. Never mind that he had only set up six goals for his linemates.
You have to wonder how Plekanec, who had recorded 20 or more goals in seven of his 11 seasons before this one, had allowed his game to slip as far as to provoke the inference that the 34-year-old’s offensive ability had all but disappeared.
On Tuesday, it was as positive of a sign as the Canadiens could hope for to see him implicated in so many different ways.
Plekanec was sensational early on in the game on a penalty killing unit that had sunk down to 21st in the NHL prior to puck drop. He helped them fight off four power plays for the Blues before half the game had been played.
Plekanec caught the type of break he hadn’t all season, luckily getting an assist on the game’s first goal, which deflected off linemate Paul Byron’s skate.
It wasn’t by chance that the puck found Plekanec several times in the offensive zone, where he made plays to Byron, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty that fell just short of giving the Canadiens a commanding lead through two periods.
And there was nothing lucky about Plekanec’s beautiful backhand goal, which served as a reminder of how far an early break and a bit of confidence could carry him.
Things were percolating for Desharnais as well, whose two-assist performance in Los Angeles was labeled by Pacioretty as the veteran centre’s best game in years.
Therrien said Desharnais’s performance against Los Angeles was one of his last three that left a strong impression.
Even if Therrien had hidden his lines leading up to warm-up in St. Louis, it was no surprise to see Desharnais take Galchenyuk’s place between Alexander Radulov and Pacioretty.
The trio looked dangerous on multiple occasions before Desharnais hobbled his way towards the dressing room, which is right around when things went south for the Canadiens.
A goal from Paul Stastny and two more from Jaden Schwartz put the Blues on the winning side, and there wasn’t much Therrien could do to make up for having to finish the game with Plekanec, Phillip Danault and Torrey Mitchell as his remaining centres.
And now the question is, what will the Canadiens do if both Galchenyuk and Desharnais are out for any length of time? It’s already been reported that Galchenyuk will undergo further testing in Montreal to reveal whether or not his absence will sideline him for weeks, or worse, months. No further update was provided on Desharnais.
Brian Flynn can play centre, and so can Andrew Shaw, but neither player is known for generating much in the way of offence.
Charles Hudon, who is known for his offence, suffered a broken sternum before the Canadiens left for their five-game trip.
Montreal prospects Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak are both reportedly out with minor injuries with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps.
If it was assumed before the season (it was) that general manager Marc Bergevin would have his work cut out for him to address concerns at the centre position, the situation is nearing emergency status now.
And as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman likes to say, “rival GM’s throw you anchors instead of lifejackets in times of need.”