BROSSARD, Que. – Michel Therrien wants more from his top scoring talent.
The Canadiens coach didn’t mention any names, but first-line forwards Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais have only one assist each in the first four games of Montreal’s Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Boston Bruins.
“I want our best players to be able to perform and to contribute to the success of the team offensively,” Therrien said Friday. “What I take from it is that if you look at the playoffs from the start, there are certain players that are having some trouble contributing offensively.
“These types of players need to adjust to the intensity of the playoffs. Yes, they are being checked very tightly, but there’s an intensity of the beginning of the season, the middle of the season and the end of the regular season. But when you get to the playoffs, it’s another type of intensity. Those types of players need to adapt to that challenge.”
Therrien spoke a day after the Canadiens lost at home in the playoffs for the first time, falling 1-0 in overtime to the Boston Bruins.
Their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Saturday night in Boston.
The Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lighting in the opening round and have played the first-place overall Bruins evenly in the second despite low production from some top players.
Pacioretty, a 39-goal scorer in the regular season, and Desharnais have a goal and two assists each in eight playoff games.
Therrien tried to get them going by moving workhorse Brendan Gallagher onto the first line for the past two games. He also has only one assists in the series, but otherwise has an impressive six points.
He had been on the second line with centre Tomas Plekanec, where Therrien moved Thomas Vanek to try to get him moving.
The third unit of centre Lars Eller, who has averaged a point per game, four-goal scorer Rene Bourque and captain Brian Gionta has been Montreal’s best so far in the post-season.
“I’m not pointing a finger at anyone,” added Therrien. “There’s a group of players that need to perform and bring us some more offence.”
It was a deserved, if unexpected, message from the Montreal coach who is otherwise happy with his team’s performance.
Few pundits gave the Canadiens much chance against Boston, but had AHL call-up Matt Fraser not scored a quirky goal 79 seconds into overtime Montreal could easily have a 3-1 series lead.
Their defensive play has been outstanding, goalie Carey Price has been solid and defenceman P.K. Subban is having a statement playoffs with 11 points in eight games.
“I like the way my team is playing,” said Therrien. “We’re improving from game to game, which is a good sign.
“We’re in a situation where we’re in a best-of-three and anything can happen.”
He just wonders how much better they would be if his top line got hot.
Only three players were made available to the media before the Canadiens left for Boston—Eller, Plekanec and defenceman Douglas Murray. They weren’t hanging their heads after the overtime loss.
“We’re confident,” said Eller. “It sucks to lose, it always hurts no matter what, but we’re not discouraged.
“It’s 2-2 and it’s still a very open series. We’ve won games in Boston before. We’re confident we can do it again. We’re not in a bad position here.”
Plekanec knows about lifting one’s intensity in the playoffs.
Struggling as a young player during a 2008 series against Boston, Plekanec famously said he “played like a little girl out there.”
Now he’s one of the team’s most dependable veterans in tough games.
“There is a pretty big difference, but it kind of goes naturally,” he said. “You bring it a level higher in the playoffs. Everybody does it, so you’ve got to kind of match it.”
He didn’t see any lack of intensity on the team, but he noted that it is easy for players to get caught up in the circus atmosphere.
“Especially here in Montreal,” he said. “It’s crazy around the city.
“Playoff time is really fun, so sometimes you don’t expect it as a rookie or a young guy to be so crazy, so that’s part of it too.”
Going into this year’s playoffs, Pacioretty had played only four post-season games and had no points. Desharnais had two assists in 10 playoff games.
Still, Plekanec said the Canadiens are in a good position heading to Boston.
“I think we have another level,” he said. “They’re a good team.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game. We wanted to get that game but we knew it’s not going to be easy and it wasn’t easy. So now it’s a best of three.”
The winning goal came after Johnny Boychuk’s point shot went off the end boards into the air and most players on the ice lost sight of it. Fraser skated out from behind the net and poked it in while Price and defencemen Murray and Mike Weaver was still searching.
“I had no idea where the puck was,” said Murray. “I followed my guy behind the net and I’ve been told it went off the boards and bounced up.
“I’m coming back in front and all I see is (Price) and (Weaver) down and I don’t see the puck. All of a sudden it comes out and my guy puts it in. I’ve got to have that guy’s stick. I just had no idea where the puck was.”
Many fans and media commentators have criticized Therrien’s decision to put Murray into Francis Bouillon’s spot on the third defence pair with Weaver starting in Game 3. He is painfully slow on his skates, but the big Swede doesn’t hesitate to throw his 240-pound body around and clog up space in the defensive zone.
“A guy like Douglas Murray, he’s a tough customer,” said Therrien. “He’s tough to play against, he’s physical and certainly he’s a presence out there for us.
“I thought Weaver and Murray did a fantastic job for us.”