Going into the game against the Blackhawks on Saturday, head coach Michel Therrien took a calculated risk in playing switcheroo with two of his top three left wingers. In search of a physical, reliable asset to shut down Chicago’s high-powered offense, the Canadiens’ bench boss promoted Travis Moen from the third forward unit to his all-purpose top line headlined by Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
“I loved Travis Moen’s work. He’s a very important player for us, someone who plays well defensively and who can be physical. I really like what this line’s experience brings to the team,” related Therrien, referencing his team’s improbable 2-1 overtime win against the number one offensive team in the NHL.
Not that the Habs won by collapsing into a defensive shell and hoping for the best against the sharp-shooting Hawks, either. Instead, the home team outplayed the visiting squad at their own game, banging out 38 shots on net while conceding only 20. Fifteen of those 38 shots were generated by Moen’s linemates.
“Moen adds a reliable element for us on the left side. We know that he’ll be responsible and cover for us if we make a mistake,” asserted captain Brian Gionta, who was able to play an aggressive forechecking game with Plekanec, a ten-year veteran on their flank.
A side effect of the roster move resulted in Daniel Briere, who had excelled on Plekanec and Gionta’s left wing, being moved to a line with Lars Eller and Rene Bourque. The new trio, that skated together for the first time ever leading up to Saturday’s game, also had a strong performance, with Briere drawing two Chicago penalties with his puck control skills to swing the game’s momentum firmly in his team’s favour early in the game.
“The thinking is, when you’re in the defensive zone against a team that’s so strong on the puck, with [Patrick] Kane, [Jonathan] Toews and other guys, we want a big winger to get the puck out,” acknowledged Briere, referencing Moen’s contributions. “Meanwhile, I thought our new line had a lot of energy. We created a lot of things around their net all night long.”
Therrien, meanwhile, was unsurprisingly excited about his newest experiment’s early success, but he knew that he already had good ingredients to work with. Despite spending most of the year outside of the top-six, Moen is one of Therrien’s favourite options on the penalty kill. Of the team’s forwards, only Tomas Plekanec has done more heavy lifting in short-handed situations.
“[Moen] came into camp this fall in great shape, with a good attitude. He’s someone who’s really respected by his teammates. In the case of Eller’s line with Daniel Briere and Rene Bourque, they created some scoring chances, which is what we ask of them. It’s a good sign when you can create chances offensively; it means that the puck will start to go in sooner or later.”
As for Travis Moen, who is re-establishing himself as a key role player at even strength on a team that will be without left winger Alex Galchenyuk until after the Olympics, the 31-year-old will be studying game tape and getting himself prepared for his next assignment against the New Jersey Devils’ top line.
“I don’t know if I’ll be matched up against the other team’s best line in every other game, but that’s our role. [Jaromir] Jagr, [Dainius] Zubrus and [Travis] Zajac are a good line. They’re big, strong guys who are good with the puck, so it’ll be a challenge to do well against them,” offered Moen.