Canadiens’ third line must make larger impact to beat Golden Knights

The Golden Knights got three goals from defenceman and held Montreal to just one overall in Game 1. Jesse Fuchs & Nick Alberga look at how the Habs can adjust ahead of Game 2 and put some respect on the Golden Knights name.

If Game 1 between the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights proved anything, it was that this will be a fast and physical series. The kind Josh Anderson is made for.

He needs to show that in Wednesday’s Game 2 of this Stanley Cup semifinal if he wants the five-hour flight back to Montreal to feel a little shorter. Because so far, through these playoffs — and in Monday’s 4-1 loss — his impact hasn’t been quite what the Canadiens would’ve hoped for when they acquired him for Max Domi and a fourth-round pick this past off-season.

The six-foot-three, 226-pound forward was signed to a seven-year, $38.5-million contract to bring his powerful skating stride, physicality and goal-scoring ability to a team that desperately needed it. He had 17 goals and 24 points in 52 games during the regular season and proved to be the type of player who should really excel at this time of year, so one goal scored in his first game of the playoffs and none since has him falling below expectations.

He’s not alone.

Anderson’s line, with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron, has everything it takes to be a menace to the Golden Knights. There’s a good balance of size and speed, there’s an edge to all three players, and they should be able to influence the game the way their counterparts did on Monday night.

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It was Vegas’s third line of Mattias Janmark, Nicolas Roy and Alex Tuch that did considerable damage against the Canadiens, producing a key goal and grinding down Montreal’s defence for long portions of the game. They’ve combined for 22 points and 85 hits, and they’ve controlled close to 60 per cent of the shot attempts at five-on-five in 11 playoff games together.

“It’s very important. It’s added depth,” said Golden Knights defenceman Brayden McNabb of their contribution. “You’ve got (Tuch) with his speed — it’s some incredible speed and it can be scary for a defenceman. With (Roy) and (Janmark)… they’ve got good speed. (Roy) likes to hold onto pucks to help them to create stuff, and (Janmark) can skate with (Tuch). So, it’s a huge benefit to have them, and they’ve been producing, and we need them to be able to continue to do that.”

Montreal needs its third line to start doing more of it.

Kotkaniemi has scored four big goals since coming into Montreal’s lineup in Game 2 of their Round 1 series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has the same skillset from the centre position as Roy and has to be able to employ it more frequently.

Byron has a goal and an assist through 12 games and has had a strong presence on the forecheck and the penalty kill. He may be a few inches shorter than Janmark, but he makes up for it with his tenacity.

Still, the Ottawa native can play better than what he offered in Monday’s game.

As can Anderson, who notched six hits (to bring his total in the playoffs to 42). He had an excellent net drive in the first period, but part of the reason it stood out was that we haven’t seen enough of it from him since the playoffs got underway.

There’s been speculation Anderson’s been playing through an injury since Round 2 against Winnipeg, but he said the six-day rest between closing out the Jets and starting in Vegas did him well.

Now Anderson needs to show it, and he and his linemates need to generate results in Game 2.

“They’re a line that can bring a lot of energy with the way they skate, the pressure they can apply on the other team,” said Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme on Tuesday. “There’s a part that is physical in their game. I think they had some good things (Monday) night, but overall, as a line, we need them to be more consistent.”

It’s that depth that often makes the difference at this time of year.

“To get deeper and deeper in the playoffs, you need scoring from everywhere,” said Golden Knights sixth defenceman Nick Holden, who didn’t score in 17 regular-season games but potted a goal for the second straight game on Monday. “If you can get guys contributing who aren’t your big guns, you’re going to win games.”

That’s supposed to be Montreal’s strength, too.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on all four of its lines, all six of its defencemen and its goaltender, and they’ll have a hard time bouncing back from their first loss in eight games if they don’t get more from everyone.

“I feel we have some players who played a solid game, others who were a bit more average,” Ducharme said after Monday’s loss. “At this time of year, we can’t have that.”

It will require better discipline to keep everyone in rhythm. The four penalties the Canadiens took between the 19th minute of the first period and the ninth minute of the second disrupted their flow and affected the depth players from playing as big a role in the game.

It wasn’t just Kotkaniemi, Byron and Anderson who suffered from that, but Eric Staal’s line with Joel Armia and Corey Perry was at a deficit as well.

There were long stretches where all six players weren’t taking a regular shift, and that’s counterproductive to the way the Canadiens need to play to be successful.

But those players also need to be able to better handle those breaks and still bring the same qualities to the game when they step on the ice for a shift.

“I’m not going to lie to you, it isn’t easy,” said Staal, “but that’s my job. That’s our job as players — to make sure that we are ready. And when we do get that opportunity and that shift, (we need) to be engaged and to be a positive influence.”

He and his linemates were able to do that to great effect against the Jets, and the Kotkaniemi-Byron-Anderson trio has had its moments throughout these playoffs.

But Game 2 presents an opportunity for them to get back on track, and they must take advantage of it to help the Canadiens tie this series.


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