This year's Ottawa Senators are a team that most squads should expect to beat. After a fluky goal in the game's opening minutes, it seemed we may be in danger of one of those inexplicably disappointing performances instead. Thankfully, this year's Habs seem less and less affected by those minor obstacles.
The Canadiens dominated the Senators after that point, grinding down a tired team until they could no longer respond. With four consecutive goals, the Habs earned two points they had earmarked from the beginning.
Tonight, the Habs face a sterner test. Even with John Tavares maturing into the bonafide number one the Isles envisioned, the team got stuck in neutral after their first round encounter with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012-13.
This summer, Garth Snow made sure that trend would not continue.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (French): RDS
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (English): Sportsnet East
In New York: MSG+ 2
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|50.2||Fenwick % (Within 1)||54.4|
|1.18||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.13|
Know Your Enemy
In previewing the Sens game and discussing their disappointing season to-date, the prevailing theme was Ottawa's inability to surround their young talent with capable veterans. With an unbelievable summer of player movement, the New York Islanders demonstrated how to accomplish what the Sens could not.
Snow took advantage of two teams stuck under the salary cap, paying two second round picks to get Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins. Then, the goaltender turned GM paid even less to get 23-year-old Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks, surrendering only journeyman forward T.J. Brennan and a middling prospect (defenceman Ville Pokka). Just like that, the Isles had their two best possession defencemen lined up for 2014-15, and a ready-made second pair.
Taking things one step further, Snow convinced Charles Wang to crack the vault just wide enough to find money for Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin. Both forwards are also strong puck movers and supplementary scorers, giving the Isles two-thirds of a second line to back up Tavares' unit.
The immediate returns are highly impressive. From the third-to-last team in the Eastern Conference last year, to second place this year, the soon-to-be Brooklyn squad is in the midst of their strongest performance in the standings in some time. The underlying numbers are even more encouraging.
As explained at Lighthouse Hockey, the New York Islanders are a different team this year. They're generating higher volumes of higher quality shots, and generating fewer shots from the dangerous areas of the ice. Combined with the increasing contributions of youngsters like Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson, and an upgrade between the pipes with the arrival of Jaroslav Halak, the Islanders are a team to be reckoned with.
Facing a powerful opponent, the Habs will look for a better result than the last time they faced them.
Last Time Out
The Montreal Canadiens took on the New York Islanders last April. A few of them, anyway.
Jack Capuano went ahead and iced the roster of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and in the frustrating fashion typical of last year's Habs, Montreal lost anyway. The listless effort was confounding: even though home-ice advantage for the first round was on the line, the Canadiens couldn't get going and Michel Therrien couldn't find a coherent strategy to give them a head start.
In retrospect, that game carries some historical significance, as it represents the final game in which George Parros and Douglas Murray took the ice together for the Habs. We may not see Brett Gallant or Kevin Czuczman in the lineup for the Islanders tonight, but at least we can take solace that the Canadiens have moved on from that dark era.
For the 2014-15 Habs, however, it's about more than resolving past mistakes. Facing a team that's moving forward, it's as good a time as any for the Canadiens to prove they're making progress, too.