Dale Weise in "Darwinian struggle" for spot on Habs' fourth line

 

 
 
 
 
Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher, left, bounces off a check by team-mate Max Pacioretty during drill at  practice at the Bell Centre in Montreal Monday October 20, 2014.
 

Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher, left, bounces off a check by team-mate Max Pacioretty during drill at practice at the Bell Centre in Montreal Monday October 20, 2014.

Photograph by: John Mahoney, Montreal Gazette

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There’s one spot in play on the Canadiens’ fourth line and three men compete for it almost every night.

It seems almost like a lab experiment, a situation artificially created to generate a Darwinian struggle within the team.

On some level, Travis Moen, Dale Weise and Michael Bournival use every game, every shift, every practice or workout session to push themselves ahead of the pack. In an ideal world, this “eat what you kill” mentality becomes contagious and breeds a team of monsters, never taking a moment for granted.

But in a more practical sense, it must be like playing with a knife to your throat, never quite having a moment to breathe easy.

Until someone is injured or one of the three men pulls way ahead of the other two, this organized chaos is the natural order things in Montreal.

“It’s unnerving,” said Manny Malhotra, the team’s fourth-line centre. “Creating that internal competition is great for our team, it lets people know they have to earn that ice (time) and it lets people know there are others nipping at their heels.

“It’s good and bad,” he continued. “Obviously, you’d like to have that sense of security and knowing you’re going to be in (the lineup). On the other end of things, it does keep you on your toes. It keeps you mentally sharp, it keeps you physically sharp and you know you have to perform.”

Though he’s not a consistent scoring threat and doesn’t exactly inspire fear in the minds of his opponents, Malhotra has made himself indispensible to the Canadiens. Even after suffering a debilitating eye injury that threatened to end his career, the 34-year-old is still one of the best faceoff specialists in the game. He’s the kind of player teams need to win a critical, defensive-zone draw to close out a tight game.

Brandon Prust also appears to be immovable from the Canadiens’ game-night roster. He hits hard, is one of the league’s best fighters and can play a role on either of the top two lines in the event of an injury.

This, of course, leaves one spot for three players in vastly different phases of their careers.

Coming into the season, it seemed that Weise was all but guaranteed the job. After being traded to the Habs last spring by the Vancouver Canucks, Weise seemed to immediately use his limited playing time to make an impact. He endeared himself to fans in the playoffs, storming across the rink on every shift, engaging with the Boston Bruins in some physical play and even scoring a few clutch goals for his new team.

Weise’s bruising style managed to draw the ire of Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who threatened to kill Weise at the conclusion of the Boston-Montreal series (you haven’t truly made it as a Canadien until Lucic wants you dead – one imagines it’s an honour comparable to being knighted).

And yet, despite a strong training camp, Weise has been left on the sidelines for three of the Canadiens’ six games.

Weise was in no mood to talk about such things after practice Monday, doing his best not to sound curt as he fielded reporters’ questions about his ice time. Neither Weise nor head coach Michel Therrien would say if he’ll be on the ice in Montreal Tuesday night to face the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m., CITYM, RDS, TSN Radio 690).

“I have no idea if I’ll be in the lineup (against Detroit),” Weise told The Gazette. “I don’t make those decisions, so I don’t know what to tell you. We have a lot of good forwards here, we’re a good team here, I don’t really look at things selfishly that way. I can’t answer that one, we’re a good team, we’re, I dunno, what is it, 5-1? Can’t argue with 5-1.”

Ordinarily, Weise is one of the team’s more charming, candid players, but he seemed unusually defensive when talking to reporters Monday. On some level, players must view not dressing for games as a sort of personal failure and, in Montreal, that struggle must be amplified when having to discuss it publicly on a semi-regular basis.

For Moen, who was rumoured to be on the trading block during the preseason, playing three of six games isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At age 32, Moen has already accomplished a great deal in his career, winning a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks and playing as a regular starter in the NHL for 10 seasons.

Bournival, who had a chance to play in 60 games with the Habs last season, is still just 22 years old with plenty of playing time ahead of him. Because he’s still under a two-way contract, Bournival spent the weekend playing for Montreal’s farm team in Hamilton, picking up a goal in two games with the Bulldogs. So there’s some form of validation there, at least.

Weise, on the other hand, is 26 and this was supposed to be the year he came into his own as a Montreal Canadien. There’s still 76 games left in the season and, with injuries, trades and the other occurances that can shake a team’s roster, it seems likely Weise will get a chance to prove himself on the ice.

“For sure it’s tough to get some consistency when you’re coming in and out of the lineup,” he said. “You go a week and a half without playing a game and that’s extremely tough, but that’s the life of a fourth-liner in the NHL. Until you break out of that role, that’s the way it’s going to be.”

ccurtis@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: titocurtis

 
 
 
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Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher, left, bounces off a check by team-mate Max Pacioretty during drill at  practice at the Bell Centre in Montreal Monday October 20, 2014.
 

Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher, left, bounces off a check by team-mate Max Pacioretty during drill at practice at the Bell Centre in Montreal Monday October 20, 2014.

Photograph by: John Mahoney, Montreal Gazette

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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