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Canadiens vs Stars game preview

Can the Habs bounce back from an underwhelming effort before the break?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When you leave off with a win, seven days away feels much different. The break becomes a time for revitalizing rest, rather than regretful reflection. A team that's been remarkably resilient gets the chance to heal any bumps or bruises. Best of all, it's a chance to revisit the strategies that have got them to where they are so far.

As just about everyone is aware, the goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens is perhaps the best at his position across the entire NHL. And while the Habs are a little below average when it comes to stymieing opposing shot attempts, their underwhelming play in that area has been masked by the brick wall on their goal line.

Their shot attempt production at the other end of the ice is harder to hide. Eighteenth in the league in shot attempts for, the Habs have struggled to generate offence at times, and, as was on display against the Nashville Predators just before the All-Star Game, the inability to exit their own zone and their difficulty in entering their opponent's borders are paralyzing at times.

Tonight, they'll face a team at the opposite end of the spectrum, in both respects. Habs fans have come to take for granted that their goaltender will hold up his end of the bargain. If they're to win tonight, they're going to have to come ready to score.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French):
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Stars region: Fox Sports Southwest
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Stars
29-13-3 Record 21-18-7
7-2-1 L10 Record 4-4-2
48.8 Fenwick % (Within 1) 51.0
123 Goals For 144
Goals Against 151
1.19 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.05
17.0 PP% 15.0
84.9 PK% 79.0

Know Your Enemy

Everyone knows about the Dallas Stars' potent offensive players. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza all carry reputations as dangerous scorers, and their production this season has helped to sustain that image. Seguin is leading the league in goals, with 28, and is behind only Claude Giroux in point production. Benn is not far off of a point per game, with 40 points in his first 46 outings. Even at age 31, Spezza is still good for 0.74 points per game. All of this adds up to the league's fourth-most-prolific offence, and a good challenge for Carey Price.

The trade-off comes at the other end of the ice. The Stars are a perfect example of a high event team, placing in top five in shot attempts for while in the bottom five for shot attempts against. As any Montreal Canadiens fans can attest, allowing a high volume of high-quality chances doesn't have to mean failure, at least in the short-term. When your goalie isn't superhuman, however, you begin to run into problems.

At 1144, Kari Lehtonen has made more saves this season than any NHL goaltender not named Cory Schneider. With a well-below-career-average save percentage of .904, few goalies have been less successful at keeping the puck out of the net this year than the Dallas #1.

Consider this: at 1078, Carey Price has faced 66 fewer shots than Lehtonen this season. To match the Finnish keeper's save percentage this year, Price would have to allow a goal on every other shot over his next 66 to "catch up."

Lindy Ruff's troops are not making life easier for their goaltender this year. If they're going to live up to the hype of their off-season, though, they'll need him to be better.

Last Time Out

The last Habs game against the Stars was, in a word, dismal. It had all of the thrills of the Canadiens getting dominated by Nashville for the first half of the game, but sadly, none of the heroic goaltending or P.K. Subban miracles.

If David Desharnais is the man chosen for critical late-period faceoffs, the Habs may be in for a rough go. It won't matter if the Canadiens are on the 20 or the 40 if the penalty kill opens up passing lanes like it's the I-345.

The Habs have the potential to play with any team in the league. If they don't want to be dominated by teams like the Predators, however, they have to avoid playing like the teams that are the prey.