The Montreal Canadiens are in trouble.
The Habs possession play early in the season was promising, and even when it began to falter, the wins kept coming. Then, the Habs embarked on their annual western road trip, and while the results were disappointing, they weren't exactly unexpected. For whatever reason, the Canadiens continually struggle on that western swing, regardless of the quality of their squad or their opponents.
Then came the reality check. Facing a poor Calgary team made worse by a slew of injuries, the Habs were spanked in every aspect of the game. The 6-2 final was entirely representative of the level of competition, and puts the spotlight back on what's been a longstanding issue.
The bulk of this issue is not rooted in the quality of the roster. The roster decisions are questionable, as Jiri Sekac and Michael Bournival continue to languish. The powerplay is abysmal, failing to score and generating only 45 shots per 60 minutes of man advantage time (for reference, league-leading Pittsburgh is averaging 65). The even strength tactics are especially bad, causing a team among the league's most talented to be surrounded by a who's who of basement squads in possession.
If Michel Therrien wishes for his team to succeed, it's time he show that he understands why it's failing.
How to Watch
Time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Habs' region (English): Sportsnet
In the Habs' region (French): RDS
In Chicago: CSN Chicago
Elsewhere: NHL Gamecenter Live or NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
The Chicago Blackhawks are in a little bit of trouble, too, but in a whole different way.
Their 6-5-1 record gives them 52% of available points, disappointing for a team used to collecting more like 65%. However, any lack of success they've experienced, including consecutive losses to the Jets and Leafs, are for very different reasons than those than explain why Montreal is losing to Calgary.
The Hawks are fundamentally sound, a fact that their 55% fenwick close attests to. However, Corey Crawford's average start, and the league's poorest shooting percentage when games are close, have made a great team into a good one. Unlike the Habs issues, however, those problems won't last forever. Given the Habs recent play, their chances tonight may rest on Chicago's string of bad luck lasting one more game.
Last Time Out
Despite the spectre of a blowout hanging over the game, we're almost guaranteed to see an entertaining hockey game. The Habs and Hawks locked horns last April, and while the final score was only 2-1 (taken in OT by the Blackhawks), the game was as exciting as they come. Both teams have skill through the lineup, and are capable of playing a style that maximizes their talent.
The big difference from last game? The Canadiens were missing their most important player, goaltender Carey Price, and Chicago was without their two top scorers, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Both players are key contributors at even strength and on the powerplay, while Toews is an occasional penalty killer, as well. The Blackhawks managed 60 shot attempts at Peter Budaj seven months ago, with their two best weapons now available, the Habs may find it difficult to prevent them from repeating that feat.