Heading into their final pair of games before the All-Star break, the Montreal Canadiens were faced with a rare challenge. Tasked with taking down the two conference leaders in consecutive games, the Habs would be forced to earn their available four points before seven days off.
After an avalanche of goals on Saturday night versus the New York Islanders, the Habs are one-for-one in their quest to navigate one of the tougher two-game stretches of their schedule. Waiting at home for the Nashville Predators, they'll try to make Tuesday two-for-two.
Having earned 72% of their available points so far, no team has been more successful in the NHL this season than Nashville. They've been met with a challenge, though, as their MVP is out for three-to-five weeks. With Pekka Rinne handing the keys to Carter Hutton, the Preds are a different team. Tonight, we'll find out if Montreal can take advantage.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Predators region: FS-TN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|49.1||Fenwick % (Within 1)||52.9|
|1.21||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.52|
Know Your Enemy
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Right off the top, it's important to acknowledge that the Nashville Predators are not a one-player team. Their Fenwick when the score is within one is fifth in the league, and their lineup features a number of dangerous players.
The off-season marked the acquisition of Mike Ribeiro, and while the former Hab may be regarded as an unsavoury character, there's no denying his talent. Even more notable was the acquisition of James Neal, he of 40 goals while skating alongside Evgeni Malkin. Neal is a first-line player this year in terms of goals, and Ribeiro ranks 10th in the entire league in assists so far. For a club renowned for their lack of punch, the influx of offensive talent has been welcome.
Perhaps most significant, though, has been the growth of Filip Forsberg. The 20-year-old Swede has absolutely exploded in his first full NHL season, trending near a point-per-game through the first half of 2014-15. With their top-six rounded out by youngsters Craig Smith and Colin Wilson, and veteran centre Mike Fisher, the Predators are no longer solely dependent on their defence for offence.
If there's an Achilles heel to this formidable squad, it's the loss of their Achilles. Pekka Rinne is Carey Price's chief competition for the Vezina Trophy this year, and had been putting up quality starts in over 70% of his games this year. Hutton, meanwhile, has managed to do so only three out of seven times, not to mention that he has allowed three or more goals in each of his last four starts.
The current iteration of the Habs is always in a precarious position when they're without Carey Price, and tonight's game will be no exception if their superstar can't take to the crease. Thankfully, with only two games to play against one of the league's best contenders this year, the absence of Rinne makes their first match-up a little easier.
Last Time Out
Like this year's Habs, last year's Montreal squad often had difficulty in first periods. When the Canadiens last met the Predators, however, they did something they don't often do: jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead.
Then, they did something we're much more accustomed to: squandered a lead by sitting on it. Climbing back from that early deficit, the Predators victimized Douglas Murray for two goals before adding the game-tying tally while Murray was caught swimming behind his own net. But, when it looked like all was lost, an unlikely hero channeled the forum ghosts and played the shift of his life.
The highlight package of the Habs' last time out against Nashville is notable in more ways than one. P.K. Subban's unparalleled shot is one reason to watch. And quite frankly, the outpouring of sympathy that this footage should engender for Raphael Diaz deserves its own local news piece. But the star of the show is David Desharnais, dissociating Mattias Ekholm of the puck and depositing it behind Marek Mazanec.
Sometimes, it takes a special individual effort to topple the toughest opposition. Tonight, with a long break awaiting, the Habs will look to drum up a little more of that magic.