Commenting on last night's game thread before the puck had dropped, frequent poster Courtnall offered his fellow readers a little apples and peanut butter boost to start the NHL season's second half. As it happened, last night's game ended up being just that for the Montreal Canadiens.
Preying on a team that still has a good deal of maturing to do, the Habs played one of their stronger games of the year. They dominated the Blue Jackets on possession, as few players ended up with a negative shot attempt differential on the evening. Even better, it was a calmer night for Tom Gilbert and Alexei Emelin than we've seen in a while, as the pair took advantage of a gentler deployment to play a cleaner game than they have in recent contests.
But best of all, the Habs powerplay erupted, as Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban combined to score three third period man advantage markers to give Montreal a well-deserved win. In a season where missed powerplay opportunities have been saved by opportunism at even strength, the Habs got the opposite.
It's been said frequently of late that regression is coming at even strength. If that's what happened last night, the timing was perfect.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|49.3||Fenwick % (Within 1)||46.2|
|1.26||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.94|
Know Your Enemy
Michel Therrien and Co. will make it their goal to convey that momentum into energy in the second half of their back-to-back.
As a wildcard playoff position disappears over the horizon for the Ottawa Senators, it is clear that 2014-15 will not be their year. The team off-loaded a great deal of talent in the off-season, and while Erik Karlsson should be going to the All-Star Game, and Bobby Ryan has checked in at just below a point per game for the last month, the Sens simply haven't been able to overcome their shortcomings and compete for one of the final spots in the post-season. It's worth noting that they have been on a steady upward trajectory in the possession department since the firing of Paul MacLean, but their ugly start to the year may be too big a disadvantage to overcome.
Of course, it the Habs have one potential stumbling block, it's the same one they tripped over in the 2012-13 playoffs: Craig Anderson. Anderson has been lights out this season, with an even-strength save percentage even higher than that of the Canadiens' MVP goaltender, Carey Price. The numbers show that Anderson is well above league average when it comes to low- to medium-danger shots, meaning that the Habs will have to conjure up the type of skill that got them a quartet of goals against Robin Lehner in December if they wish to generate some offense.
There is likely no team that wins by betting on their goaltender more often than the Montreal Canadiens, but as the Senators' skaters work to get their game in order, Anderson may be their beacon of hope in the interim.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens faced the Senators one month ago and welcomed their divisional rival at just the right time: as the Sens were completing a stretch of three games in four nights.
Undaunted by an early, fluky Erik Condra goal, the Habs would score the next four straight, relying on the strength of their top line to overpower the Senators. It was a less-than-entertaining victory against a team that Montreal should beat, earned almost exclusively on a balance of talent.
The Habs won't get that same fatigued Senators group this time, but they should still be well-positioned to earn the same result. One need look no further than the botched zone exit that gave Kevin Connauton his goal last night to know that all is not right in the Province of Quebec, but this year's Ottawa team is the type of struggling outfit that Montreal should manage to beat regardless.
Armed with the advance knowledge that this winnable game is followed by consecutive clashes with conference leaders, the Canadiens have the power to make this game what they want it to be. Around 10:00 PM ET, we'll know if they'll host the Islanders energized by another wholesome snack, or left to feel empty by a game played without substance.