Canadiens at Jets - Game Preview

Marianne Helm

As the Canadiens begin to head toward home, they'll make a stop in Winnipeg. Can the Habs continue their dominance over the Jets?

For the first time in 2013-14, the Canadiens took on a strong opponent, one who is almost certainly playoff bound. Montreal got better and better as the game progressed, and eventually emerged with an impressive 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Now, the Habs will return to their October status quo - two points on the table, there for the taking.

After a scintillating run left the 2013 iteration of the Jets just short of the playoffs, a similar squad holds similar aspirations. While the team's composition doesn't look significantly different, the landscape surrounding Canada's seventh NHL team has been altered considerably.

After being brought back into the fold prior to the 2011-12 season, the Jets were placed into the legendarily soft Southeast division. With this year's realigment, greater exposure to the much stronger teams of the former Atlantic and Northeast divisions would have been adjustment enough. Of course, the NHL took things one step further, placing Winnipeg into the harsh Western Conference.

The Jets have had mixed results in the win column, holding a 3-3 record coming into tonight's matchup. While a .500 record against a mostly Western schedule is encouraging, a peek below the surface reveals that Winnipeg has been less than impressive to-date.

For starters, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec has been his regular, below-average self so far. Pavelec has a .905 save percentage, and has allowed 16 goals en route to a 2-3 record. Winnipeg's best goaltending performance, a Sunday evening shutout over the New Jersey Devils, was provided by backup Al Montoya. While Pavelec does not have a shining track record, it's worth noting that the folks over at Arctic Ice Hockey have found that his play has been decent so far, and that a good chunk of his goals against may have been out of his control.

Pavelec will get the start again this evening, and will look to improve upon his 4-7 career record against Montreal. Pavs has put forth only a .898 save percentage against the Habs in his career, a microcosm of his team's performance against Montreal.

Since the former Atlanta Thrashers moved to Manitoba, Montreal has straight up owned them, winning six of seven games and outscoring the Jets by an average of almost three goals in their victories. The sole exception, a 4-0 defeat in early December of 2011, came at the bottom of Montreal's downward spiral from a competent but unlucky team to a pitiful basement dweller. As Habs fans will remember fondly, that loss featured the inexplicable benching of P.K. Subban and Lars Eller, one of the many happy memories created during the Montreal tenure of one Randolph William Cunneyworth.

Last season, the Jets finished as a middling possession team, with the aforementioned caveat of playing in a poor division. Manitoba's team has been unable to sustain that to begin the year this year, clocking in at a terrible 43.3% corsi for percentage in their first six games. While 43.3% corsi for is not likely to be indicative of Winnipeg's true abilities, it illustrates their struggles with consistency with their current roster configuration. Montreal, meanwhile, currently ranks in the league's top ten at 53.3%, an almost exact replica of their result from last year's lockout-shortened campaign. Montreal has already played four of last year's bottom ten teams in terms of possession performance, and has emerged with an unimpressive four points. Tonight, they'll again seek to again put away a team that they are superior to.

Looking to again stifle the Jets, and to build on an excellent performance on Hockey Night in Canada, Carey Price will take to the crease for the Habs this evening. Price is a dominant 10-3 against the Jets in his career, including games played when his opponents were still called the Thrashers. Price has been great to start this season as well, boasting a .929 save percentage in his four starts so far, and passing the eye test with some spectacular saves as well. Number 31 appears to be fully healed from the injuries that held him back last year, which is great news for a Habs team that has the pieces to make a run provided their goaltending is solid.

Returning from a non-injury absence is right winger Brian Gionta, who could not take part in the Habs-Canucks game due to a personal engagement. This gives Montreal a near full lineup, and means that Gionta will be able to support centre David Desharnais as he endeavours to play a second consecutive decent game. That statement assumes that Michel Therrien maintains his line combinations from the Habs last two games, in which Tomas Plekanec has centered Gallagher and Galchenyuk, Lars Eller has been the middle man for Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere, and Rene Bourque is the third man alongside the Captain and DD.

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