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Canadiens vs Panthers: Start time, TV schedule and game preview

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Can the Montreal Canadiens close out 2014 with a win over a familiar foe?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Another game against Carolina. Another Montreal victory.

As they have in each of their last eight opportunities, the Habs picked up at least a point against the Hurricanes. It may not have been Montreal's most inspiring effort, but buoyed by two skillful plays, the Habs were able to hold the fort for the back half of the contest.

The game was symbolic of what has been a troubling trend for the Habs: sitting on leads. The Canadiens had some nice cycles, but by and large, failed to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. Instead, they leveraged their superior talent to score the two goals they needed to win, and showed that they were content to station Nathan Beaulieu on the goal line and batten down the hatches while their opponents pressed.

The outcome was positive, but Carolina is the type of squad that Montreal should be able to dominate. Instead, as they've done frequently, they gambled that a period or so of solid play would be enough to earn the victory.

Nonetheless, the Habs press on. Tonight, they'll move on to face another franchise against which they've had success.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (French): RDS
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (English):
Sportsnet East
In Florida: FS-F
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Panthers
23-11-2 Record 16-9-8
6-4-0 L10 Record 6-2-2
50.3* Fenwick % (Close) 52.0
98 Goals For 79
85
Goals Against 86
1.21 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.07
15.0 PP% 13.6
85.7 PK% 81.0

* Excluding last night's game.

Know Your Enemy

The Habs have been Florida in five of their last seven chances. The team that they've beaten, however, is not the one that they will face tonight.

The 2013-14 Cats were a solid possession team, but were undermined by poor goaltending, among other factors. This year's Gerard Gallant-coached Panthers are on a clear upward trajectory, maintaining some of the encouraging work they did last year and demonstrating further growth.

Florida is just outside the top ten, league-wide, on score-adjusted possession, but their play this month has been elite. In December, Florida has been a top five possession team, all while facing a schedule that's been at least moderately difficult.

Even better, the efforts have their skaters have been enhanced by the stabilizing presence of Roberto Luongo, who's been his consistently excellent self since his return to the U.S. Southeast. Sporting a .930 save percentage at even strength, Bobby Lu has been a huge upgrade in net, especially at the low cost of a goalie prospect and depth NHL forward.

With difference makers of the calibre of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksandr Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad coming into the Florida organization, it's only a matter of time before the Panthers begin to contend.

If the former Habs assistant has his way though, the future for Gerard Gallant's team might be this spring.

Last Time Out

The Canadiens last game against Florida looked a little like their game last night.

The Panthers nearly doubled Montreal's shot output, but it was Montreal that came with two points. Using snipers Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek to outclass the Panthers, the Habs scored three goals before turning the evening over to Carey Price. As usual, Price stood tall, and with an empty netter, the Canadiens had their win.

Sitting back and defending a lead may be the instinctive response, but that does not mean it is a positive one. Against a Florida team that's more than capable, the Habs may find that playing just one period isn't enough.