There's no other way to say it. The Montreal Canadiens were in a different league than the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night, and not in a good way. For two periods, the Habs had no answer, often struggling to even leave their own zone. While both of Minnesota's goals were fluky, the outcome was just. Once again, the Canadiens proved unable to keep up with a top squad.
Tonight, they'll face the same challenge.
How to Watch
Start time: 8:30 PM ET
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (English): Sportsnet East
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (French): RDS
Illinois and Surrounding States: CSN Chicago
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|49.92||Fenwick % (Within 1)||54.89|
|1.04||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.39|
Know Your Enemy
The Minnesota Wild are a strong, and highly effective team. Yet, their slight lack of depth, exacerbated by injuries, shows the type of small cracks a well-prepared squad can exploit. The Chicago Blackhawks are very much the same - minus the weaknesses.
Their top players, like Jonathan Toews, produced at rates near unmatched across the league. Toews' ability to produce, even in a relatively challenging deployment, lets the Blackhawks deploy fourth liners like Brian Bickell and Andrew Shaw in a more moderate role, where they have excelled. Even the team's shutdown defensive pair of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, buried in their own zone and facing the best and brightest, come out well ahead on possession and goal differential.
The frustrating part is, the Canadiens have the talent to compete with this type of a team, and they need look no further than the blueprint drawn by the Vancouver Canucks to see how they might do it. The Canucks used a strong and skilled line of Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins, and Linden Vey to grind the 'hawks scoring trio, led by Patrick Kane, into submission. Lars Eller, Jiri Sekac, and Brandon Prust seem perfectly suited for the same task.
Then, they went fire with fire, taking the Sedins and Radim Vrbata and deploying them against Toews, Marian Hossa, and Brandon Saad. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher, may be up to this task, so long as they're backed up by Markov and Subban.
Sadly, in just 26 games of NHL head coaching experience, Willie Desjardins seems to have learned a few things that Michel Therrien has not. After the debacle that was their last game against Chicago, however, maybe we're due for a different approach.
Last Time Out
And a debacle it was indeed, as a strong first period for Montreal gave way to a wretched final forty. As the highlight package below will attest, the Canadiens didn't test Corey Crawford a great deal, but when they did, Crawford swallowed up the offensive opportunities.
That leads us to perhaps the Habs' best chance tonight, and that's Antti Raanta. The Finn replaces Crawford, who suffered an off-ice lower body injury and will be out for 2-3 weeks. Raanta has played hot to start his year, but underperformed in 25 starts in relief of Crawford last season.
For almost two full seasons worth of games, the Habs have proven time and time again that they are rarely inclined to give themselves the advantage. If they wish to win, then, they'll have to capitalize on the ones they are given.