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2017 Playoff Preview: Montreal’s Bottom Six

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

There’s just no escaping it. Montreal’s size advantage, particularly in its bottom six forward group, will be one of the big storylines of the Rangers and Canadiens first round playoff series.

At the trade deadline Habs general manager Marc Bergevin went out of his way to add some guts and nasty to his team. Montreal picked up Dwight King, Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen on deadline day at the cost of a conditional 4th round pick, a 6th round pick and Sven Andrighetto.

Those three trades directly addressed concerns from the first half of the season about Montreal’s size and toughness (sound familiar?).

Let’s get a little more familiar with Montreal’s bottom-six forwards and find out what they do when they aren’t being bigger than the Rangers.

Galchenyuk, Shaw, Lehkonen

As far as third lines go, Montreal’s is pretty solid.

Alex Galchenyuk remains a featured weapon on Montreal’s power play, but he has been playing his even strength minutes on the third line - mostly with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen.

Shaw is in his first year with Montreal and he has some head-turning possession numbers. The former Blackhawk had 13 primary points during 5-on-5 hockey this year, including 9 goals - as many as Brendan Gallagher.

But Rangers fans know him best for this cheap hit on Jesper Fast from Jan. 14th.

Shaw may not be big, but he knows how to get under the skin of his opponents and make an impact. That is exactly why Bergevin gave up two 2nd round picks for Shaw at the 2016 NHL Draft and then signed him to a six-year deal.

Lehkonen is a 21-year-old Finn who has quietly put together a 16-goal rookie season. The former 2nd round pick has 5 goals since Mar. 1st - two of which have been game winners.

Lehkonen doesn’t have great size or blazing speed, but he’s a smooth skater and willing to challenge big bodies in the corners a lot like Fast does for the Rangers. He shoots more than Jimmy Vesey and relies less on the power play to produce. Lehkonen is a player to watch.

What makes Montreal’s new third line tick?

“I think we’re going to build more and more chemistry,” Shaw told Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette last week. “Me and Lehky are going to do a lot of the dirty work going in the corners for (Galchenyuk) and make sure we get him the puck, because when he has the puck he can make things happen. He’s got the mindset to make plays and score goals. Me and Lehky know that. We’re both going to go to the corners, go in front of the net and hopefully have some success that way.”

How does Montreal’s third line compare to New York’s?

Corsica.hockey

If we’re going by counting stats, the Rangers have a clear advantage - an even strength shooting percentage of 12.42 will do that for you. If we’re going by possession numbers it’s Montreal by a landslide.

The Canadiens third line excels at limiting chances against but that has been lost in the smoke of bad luck and sub-par goaltending. The gap between their 94.82 PDO and their 101.69 xDPO speaks volumes about the trio’s tough luck.

Shaw and Lehkonen both scored goals the last time the Rangers played the Canadiens.

King, Ott, Martinsen

The King-Ott-Martinsen trio has no shortage of toughness, size and experience, but it is pretty awful at puck possession. They’re at the bottom of the barrel in Rel. CF% on Montreal.

So what does this line do for Montreal? Well, it sure does hit a whole bunch.

The Habs have averaged 26.33 hits per game since the deadline. The players on this version of Montreal’s fourth line have averaged a combined 7.9 hits per game and Dwight King leads the trio with an average of 11:58 TOI.

They’re not out there often, but when they are they make sure to leave some bruises.

Although Ott and Martinsen have not been everyday players for the Canadiens since joining the club, they’ve been in the lineup as of late.

If Tanner Glass is in the Rangers lineup during the playoffs, Ott’s presence on Montreal’s fourth line will be one of the reasons why.

Mitchell

When Torrey Mitchell has been in the lineup he has been used sparingly. Since the trade deadline his average ice time is 11:02. So why has Mitchell played 76 games this year for the Habs?

He wins draws and is a relatively sound defensive forward.

Mitchell has won 58 percent of his draws since deadline day, but the trades made by Bergevin have pushed him, Brian Flynn and Michael McCarron out of the lineup. He just doesn’t take the body like King, Ott and Martinsen do.


Read more about the Montreal Canadiens over at Habs Eyes on the Prize.