At face value, it appeared to be a winnable game. Save for an admittedly strong goaltender, a date with the second-to-last-in-the-division Ottawa Senators looked like the type of evening almost certain to yield two points.
By the time the game clock ticked down to zero, however, it was clear the Canadiens had walked into a trap.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Habs came out flat and never really gained much traction throughout the evening. The Senators, a team on a steady upward possession trajectory, continued that trend, consistently driving toward Dustin Tokarski.
In three losses this year, Tokarski has received a total of one goal in support of his efforts. If the Canadiens are to beat the New York Islanders this evening, he'll need more than that.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA
In Canada (English): Sportsnet
In the Islanders region: MSG+
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|49.2||Fenwick % (Within 1)||55.2|
|1.20||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.10|
Know Your Enemy
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Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, the Habs' ability to handle elite competition has been the subject of debate. Once the Canadiens added a win over the Islanders to their resume, the next question was whether the Islanders were truly an elite team.
Past the halfway point of the season, there is little doubt. The Islanders are the league's best possession team, at least when the score is within one goal, and their impressive play has buoyed them to the Eastern Conference's best record. With a well-balanced lineup that includes savvy veterans, up-and-coming youngsters, and superstar talent, the Isles excel in all facets of the even strength game. Whether it's trading for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, signing Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, or drafting Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson, Garth Snow hasn't hesitated to use any tool at his disposal to craft a highly-competitive squad. In fact, his waiver pick-ups of useful players like Brian Strait and Thomas Hickey show that he's willing to stretch that philosophy as far as he can.
If anything is going to slow that group down tonight, it might be some of the same factors that undermined the Habs against Ottawa. With Jaroslav Halak having triumphed over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, chances are strong that Montreal will see back-up Chad Johnson in Halak's place. While the former Canadien hero has been credited with stabilizing the Isles' crease, and Tokarski has also been pleasantly solid in relief of Carey Price, Johnson has been unsustainably bad in his 12 games this year. His .879 save percentage at even strength places him below the unanimously-panned performance of Arizona Coyotes keeper Mike Smith, and firmly in the territory of a number of goaltenders that the average NHL fan may not have heard of before.
Just like Craig Anderson's presence was a hindrance to Montreal on Thursday, Johnson's potential presence may represent Montreal's best hope.
Last Time Out
When the Habs opened their last contest with the Islanders, they looked how they often do in first periods: unprepared. The Islanders manhandled Montreal for the opening 20 minutes, using quick turns up ice and an aggressive strategy of picking Canadien defenders to earn chances. The Habs were outshot 14-3 in the first frame, but, thanks to Carey Price, trailed by only one goal.
They won't have their typical insurance policy tonight, and that means they'll have to carry forth the lessons they learned as their last game against New York progressed. The Habs have often been unprepared to start games, and with no CP31, they'll have to find a way to be prepared that comes with a much higher-than-usual degree of difficulty.
On Thursday, a winnable game turned into a trap for Montreal. Tonight, the Canadiens will be looking for a win in a game where they know exactly what they're getting into.