Canadiens vs. Lightning - Game Preview

Scott Iskowitz

With two consecutive convincing wins, the Habs head home looking to carry their momentum toward a win over an injured division rival.

When the Montreal Canadiens opened their 2013-14 season series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, they did so with near perfect timing.

While an injury to an NHL superstar is never fortunate, especially one as dynamic and heavily relied upon as Steven Stamkos, his absence does give Tampa's opponents a much greater chance to win. Coincidently, in the game immediately before Tampa Bay's first clash with the Habs this year, the Bolts lost their sniper to broken leg.

Now, Montreal is about to find out if Lightning will strike twice.

In the Lightning's most recent game, goaltender Ben Bishop came out to challenge a puck rolling into the Lightning's defensive zone. Bishop dove at the puck, ahead of onrushing Senator Mika Zibanejad and Tampa Bay back-checker Nikita Kucherov. When Bishop sprawled, he was struck in the back of the head by the skate (and possibly the knee) of Kucherov. The skate blow suffered the end of the night for Bishop, and may affect his status for this afternoon's affair.

If the Habs enjoy the improbable benefit of facing the Lightning without a second star player, it would provide a rare opportunity to extend their two game winning streak. According to Hockey Reference's goals saved above average (GSAA) number, which counts the number of extra goals a goaltender would have saved or allowed compared to a goalie with a league average save percentage, Bishop has kept 21 pucks out of the Tampa net. When one considers that regular back-up Anders Lindback is also unavailable, it may mean the Habs get a chance to re-acquaint themselves with former Canadien Cedrick Desjardins.

Desjardins left the Habs for Tampa as part of a trade that brought current AHL all-star Dustin Tokarski to the Montreal organization, a trade which seems to have favoured the Habs. The Bulldogs keeper has been staunch, and one of the most consistent members of his team. Desjardins, meanwhile, is struggling in Syracuse, posting only a .902 save percentage, while platooning with Kristers Gudlevskis. Desjardins, once thought to be a viable NHL prospect, is now not even his team's clear cut number three goalie.

In addition to missing their star keeper, the Habs also appear poised to take on Tampa almost immediately in advance of the return of their best scorer. Stamkos has been rehabilitating fervently since he suffered his injury in November, and appears to be on track for a return to the Canadian Olympic team. The Lightning are an excellent possession team, but lack top-end finish without the Markham native in their lineup. Having receive excellent goaltending in their last two outings, and having restricted the Bolts to only two goals in their last two games against Montreal, the Habs should seek to again frustrate their South Florida opponents.

As Raw Charge notes, the Lightning may also be without Valtteri Filppula for today's game, which really puts the Lightning's injuries in perspective. When the Habs lost a nominal second liner and supplementary scorer in Alex Galchenyuk, the Canadiens' already impoverished offense suffered significantly. Tampa stands to lose their second line centre, a staple of their top six, and it seems to be the least of their worries at the moment.

One shudders to think how the Canadiens lineup might look without Carey Price, and thankfully, it appears we won't have to confront that horrifying thought this afternoon. After Peter Budaj took on the Bruins and won on Thursday night, Price is the likely starter this afternoon in Montreal. C3P1 has started both Habs games against Tampa Bay this year, and has been extraordinary in those outings. He'll look to post a similar outing this afternoon, keeping the Habs' streak going and moving them within two points of their second place foes.

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