The Montreal Canadiens, and more specifically head coach Dominique Ducharme, raised quite a few eyebrows on Saturday when they took the ice for practice several days ahead of facing off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Perhaps the most notable detail of today's practice was the absence of veteran defenseman Shea Weber, and although that may have been a point of concern for some it sounds like that concern is unnecessary. Ducharme himself would confirm to reporters following the practice that he fully expects Weber will be available for Game 1 of the series against the Maple Leafs on Thursday, and even went so far as to suggest that he expects Weber to return to practice with the team shortly. Ducharme described himself as "very confident" on the matter of Weber's return which suggests it is very likely.
The biggest surprise of the day however came during the team's line rushes, rushes in which Ducharme revealed the group of forwards he appears to plan to lean on in Game 1 of this series. Ducharme appeared to prioritize veteran players over some of his young guns, with the lineup breaking down in the following manner:
Habs fans will notice quite a few important names missing from that list, notably those of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield, and Michael Frolik, and that is no coincidence. TSN's John Lu reported that all 3 of those aforementioned players were wearing grey jerseys, an indication that they were merely extras on the ice in this particular practice.
I suspect that this decision may not sit well with many fans in Montreal who would like to see some of those players in the lineup come playoff time, but it is important to remember that at this stage of the season this could simply be gamesmanship on the part of the Canadiens head coach. That may be true, but Ducharme's deployment of his players on the team's first and second power play units also appeared to be an indication that the head coach would be focusing on his veteran players come playoff time.
Here's a look at how the two power play units break down:
Only time will tell if this is how the Canadiens keep things moving forward.
Photo Credit: David Kirouac/CSM/Zuma