Sometimes, a win just isn't enough.
The Canadiens got their two points against the Sabres on Wednesday, but a victory that came on the heels of being pushed to a shootout by a brutal Buffalo team is cold comfort to a fan base that watched their team lose three consecutive games. The Habs got their win, but they still have to prove they're for real.
Michel Therrien appears to have learned his lesson, and will keep Jiri Sekac in the lineup again tonight. While he does not have services of Michael Bournival at his disposal, Sekac's presence alone helps to maintain quality and balance un the Habs top-9.
Meanwhile, the Canadiens invested much of their practice time Friday on improving their miserable powerplay. The Habs have output only two goals with the man advantage so far this year, tying them with their most recent opponents and their opponents tonight.
The Habs aren't going anywhere if their even strength play doesn't improve. Until that happens, a decent powerplay would be a nice equalizer.
Tale of the Tape
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In Quebec: TVA Sports
In Canada: City TV
Know Your Enemy
The Canadiens opponents may sit 10th in their Conference, but rest assured: the Habs face one of the second-tier powers of the west this evening.
The Minnesota Wild are the only team to maintain a Fenwick close percentage over 60% to date, and while that's unlikely to last, it illustrates just how dominant the Wild have been this season. While they'll miss the injured Zach Parise tonight, their forward group is deep enough that the bottom six still includes quality players like Nino Niederreiter. Meanwhile, their top six is a mix of experience and youth, and full of dangerous weapons. Jason Pominville has been particularly dangerous against the Habs, amassing 32 points over his 51 career games against Montreal.
The defence is led by workhorse Ryan Suter, who as usual, can be found a full minute ahead of his closest competitor in the NHL time on ice standings. Suter and his frequent partner, Jonas Brodin, have done an impressive job of suppressing their opponent's shot attempts, but the Canadiens were able to exploit this pair in both of their games last year. Their ability to do so tonight may be critical to ensuring that starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper is not left too comfortable.
Of course, while Minnesota's squad includes a number of noteworthy players, all eyes tonight will be on former Hab Thomas Vanek. Vanek was brought in as a playoff mercenary by Marc Bergevin late last season, and while he produced early in his short Montreal tenure, he found himself relegated to the bottom of the lineup by the end of the playoffs. When the Canadiens were losing important games by small margins, Vanek was simply unable to produce the offence that he was relied on to.
The Austrian winger has asserted himself in Minnesota, and leads the team in 5v5 points. While his possession numbers, and especially his shot rate, are still a nightmare, the talented Vanek will still be a challenge for a Montreal D corps that got only a brief reprieve from his Habs-killing ways.
Last Time Out
When they first encountered the Wild last season, the Canadiens lost a frustrating 4-3 game that highlighted many of the same Michel Therrien shortcomings that are frustrating today. At the top of that list was a failure to manage his human resources, as players like Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray, and George Parros made critical mistakes at critical junctures.
Last time out, one of the Canadiens most important resources took matters into his own hands. Max Pacioretty was an absolute monster, registering ten shots on goal and a natural hat-trick on the way to a 6-2 drubbing of Minnesota. As his personal highlight reel below illustrates, the Habs winger is more than capable of taking his team on his back if necessary.
Tonight isn't about that though. No one is arguing that the Canadiens have talent. No one is arguing that their star players cannot, or will not, steal games this season. In fact, there really isn't much of an argument to be had about whether or not the Canadiens will even make the playoffs.
Tonight is about something bigger, and that's showing this talented team is capable of playing to something greater than the sum of its parts. The Minnesota Wild will be challenge. It's up to the Canadiens to show that they can overcome it.