Another year, another ugly western swing.
It wouldn't be a hockey season without disappointing performances in Alberta, and this year has been no different. The Canadiens suffered a loss they didn't deserve in Edmonton. The next night, they took home two points, despite having the proverbial wood laid to them by a team expected to be in lottery contention. Worst of all, another round of confounding Michel Therrien decisions has used up some the slack he earned with the team's early season success.
When the Habs embarked on their western voyage, the sentiment expressed here was that they could not win forever. The Habs have proven that true so far this week. As their road trip rises to a crescendo, we'll find out if they can salvage it.
How to watch
Time: 10:00pm EST
In Canada (English): Sportsnet 360
In the Habs' region (French): RDS
Elsewhere: NHL Gamecenter Live or NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
The Vancouver Canucks of 2013-14 were a tire fire. Weighed down by injury misfortune, terrible goaltending, and a toothless offence, a talented enough team finished third from the bottom of the Western conference, ahead of only perennial losers Calgary and Edmonton. One might not know it after watching the Flames dominate on Tuesday evening, but the company kept by Vancouver last season did not befit the quality of their roster.
Rather than blow things up, new GM Jim Benning retooled his team instead. After both members of one of the NHL's best goaltending duos were traded by his predecessor in separate deals, Benning opened up the vault and signed the best free agent goaltender, Ryan Miller. Next, he nabbed a top-line winger in Radim Vrbata, perhaps poaching him from Marc Bergevin in the process. Out are Ryan Kesler, David Booth, and Jason Garrison. In are Nick Bonino, Derek Dorsett, and Luca Sbisa. And yet, the core of a competitive team remains.
Vancouver is 6-3-0 in their first nine, placing them squarely in the middle of a competitive Western conference. Miller's performance has been solid, weighed down by a rough game against the Stars and far better than what Eddie Lack or Jacob Markstrom could have offered. Their special teams, including a Perry Pearn-coached powerplay, have been productive. Looking deeper into the Canucks even-strength play, however, it's clear that Vancouver has a weakness.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin, with Vrbata riding shotgun, are on a rampage.Their 60% plus possession and combined 33 points to date are illustrative of the carnage they've wreaked on their early season opponents. The rest of their forward core leaves something to be desired.
As Rhys Jessop writes at Canucks Army, Vancouver is heavily reliant on their first line to get the job done. One tweet is particularly telling:
The Canucks are a 62.2% Corsi team with Henrik Sedin on the ice. The same Canucks are a 45.9% Corsi team with Henrik Sedin on the bench.— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) October 26, 2014
War-on-ice illustrates it another way:
Let's be clear: the Canadiens fourth line is no great shakes itself. That said, Montreal has the talent to build a lineup that features the kind of bottom-six talent that could run roughshod over the collection of red circles playing the 20 minutes a game that the Sedin and Bonino trios can't be on the ice. If there were ever a time for Sekac, Bournival, and Beaulieu to find their way into the lineup, tonight just might be it.
Last Time Out
Last time out was a rollicking 5-2 Canadiens victory, in which the Habs (and Max Pacioretty especially) preyed on a weakened Canucks squad. Pacioretty managed to blow two penalty shots in the span of a single period, and then got hat-trick anyway. The Habs may have taken less than 40% of the shots that night, but after Pacioretty, and Carey Price, and an Alex Edler own-goal, and 50% of Ryan White's goal production for the year, Montreal maintained the appearance of being in control.
In fact, both games between these two teams featured a Vancouver team that controlled the play, and a Montreal team that emerged victorious. While that type of effort would not be out of place a Habs western swing, the Canadiens can do better. The team has physically moved beyond Alberta. Tonight, they'll aim to show that their performance has surpassed Alberta, too.