Amidst the celebration of Guy Lapointe's jersey rising to the Bell Centre rafters, there was a good measure of anxiety about the act that was to follow. A foundering Canadiens team was set to take on one of best teams of the early season, fresh off of beatdowns at the hands of Calgary and Chicago, and a not-so-convincing win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The first period validated much of that, as Minnesota put up almost twenty more shot attempts than Montreal could manage. With a dash of courage and double portion of Carey Price, however, the Habs persisted and entered the second period at a scoreless draw. With a powerful, perfectly placed Brendan Gallagher slapshot, La Sainte-Flanelle had a lead it would not relinquish.
The victory leaves the Canadiens at a crossroads. Is the win a forbearance of a change of fortune? Or did a win in the standings overshadow what was really a loss on the ice?
Tonight, we get another clue toward piecing together the trajectory of the Habs in 2014-15.
Tale of the Tape
How to Watch
Start Time: 7:30pm EST
In the Canadiens' region: RDS
In Quebec and the Maritimes: Sportsnet East
In Winnipeg: TSN3
Elsewhere: NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Know Your Enemy
The Winnipeg Jets find themselves in similar circumstances.
Notwithstanding the fanfare surrounding the return of NHL hockey to Manitoba, the Jets have been mostly an afterthought in their three years back in the NHL. This year, things are different.
While absurdly early to draw any meaningful conclusions, the Jets are in the unfamiliar territory of a playoff seed through fifteen games. Perhaps more impressively, they're doing so at the expense of teams like Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado, and Dallas.
The most immediate difference is play of Ondrej Pavelec. The much-maligned goalkeeper, who has never managed better than a just below average .914 save percentage in a single season, is rocking a stellar .928 mark so far. Compared to his career statistic of .906, 2014-15 Pavelec has already saved seven more goals than usual disappointing Pavelec. Considering that Winnigeg is 5-0-1 in one goal games so far, Pavelec's hot streak is probably a big part of his team's solid start.
Other than that? The usual factor that powers the success of Jets hockey applies, and that's the team's strong top six. Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan Little are all fully capable first line scorers, and while Dustin Byfuglien should be dedicated to defence, his physical play and scoring touch can make a difference, too.
That's about where it ends, however. The Jets' secondary scoring is non-existent, as those top three scorers account for almost double the output of the rest of the forwards combined. While players like Mathieu Perrault are valuable in support roles, Paul Maurice holds no trust for his fourth line, and their ice time reflects that. Depth is paramount no matter one's opponent, but the choice to run with Jiri Sekac should be particularly impactful on a night like tonight. Hot Ondrej Pavelec or not, this is a team that the deep Habs should be able to exploit.
Last Time Out
Canadiens-Jets games are normally exciting, in that Montreal usually wins and sometimes, Lars Eller scores four goals. Last time out was an exception.
The game started out slowly, was won on a Carey Price turnover, and culminated in controversy. As if being outshot by the Jets wasn't frustrating enough, the Habs late game charge was derailed by some uncalled abuse on Brendan Gallagher:
Realistically, the Canadiens never should have found themselves in the compromising position of fighting for a tying goal and relying on the officials to help them earn it. Their ability to avoid such a situation this evening will determine whether that clue we receive is positive or negative, or something different altogether.