Before the Canadiens clashed with the 'Canes on New Year's Eve, the question posed here on EOTP was, "which Canadiens team will show up?"
We've all seen the good Habs, the ones who outworked the Islanders and Lightning, or took two points from the Bruins. We've all seen too much of the bad Habs, the ones who can't handle the Panthers or get blown out by the Blues and Kings. On Tuesday, we got a good glimpse of both.
The good Habs showed up to start the game, opening up a three goal lead while outshooting the Hurricanes for a spell. The good Habs persisted, weathering a storm of penalties, including four straight infractions during the second period, and a number of instances during which the Canadiens were left with two men off the ice simultaneously.
Then, the bad Habs showed up and undid all of the good work that characterized the early portion of the match. The bad Habs allowed a powerplay goal, and then made things worse by suffering an undisciplined bench minor before the next faceoff. The hemorrhage of goals continued, as the Hurricanes would score three more to take the lead. Things would even out, somewhat, from there, but the damage was done - Carolina's best player, Alexander Semin, was left one-on-one with the struggling Alexei Emelin, where he would spin the game-winner through the legs of Carey Price.
This story is not unfamiliar to Habs fans. Whether it's game to game, period to period, or even shift to shift, the Canadiens appear incapable of the consistency requisite to success. Excellent goaltending, and the bonus of solid special teams, have allowed the Habs to build a cushion in the Eastern Conference's playoff race. Lately, however, Montreal has been getting the bounces less and less often, leading to ugly outcomes like the one last night. There is a great deal of work to be done to turn things around, and as the Habs embark on 2014, their first chance to improve comes tonight in Texas.
The Dallas Stars are a dangerous team. A top 10 squad in possession across the NHL, they have been almost exclusively possession positive when not playing the Kings or Blackhawks. Against teams like Canadiens, they feast.
The top line in Dallas is young and strong, featuring two Team Canada candidates in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, as well as young Russian phenom Valeri Nicushkin. The back-end features some quality young talent as well, where Brenden Dillon has quickly blossomed into a top pair defenceman. Dillon teams with Alex Goligoski, and the two tend to play the big minutes on the Dallas blue line.
In the middle of the Dallas forward lineup is former Hab Erik Cole, now in his second season in Texas after he was traded for Michael Ryder last year. Cole isn't dominating possession like he was when playing alongside Max Pacioretty in 2011-12, but he is still a reliable secondary scorer, as he plugs along at about a half point per game. Alongside former Oiler captain Shawn Horcoff, and journeyman Ray Whitney, Cole is one member of Dallas' veritable stable of veterans backing up the youthful first line.
In net, the Stars will lean on Kari Lehtonen to keep the Habs' from changing their low-scoring ways. Lehtonen has been workhorse for Dallas, where he's stayed sharp despite facing one of the larger shot totals among NHL goalies. Of course, Carey Price should have no trouble empathizing with his Finnish colleague's workload, as only three NHL goalies have made more saves than CP31 has so far. As noted above, the advantage at even strength that Dallas brings into tonight's game is chasmic. If Montreal is to earn a victory, Price will have to forget the Carolina collapse as quickly as it came on.
For gameday coverage from the deep south, and a look at how Jim Nill has quickly modelled the Stars into a model franchise (plus, what a certain other Texas-based franchise could stand to learn from it), head down to Defending Big D.