The Montreal Canadiens entered their Saturday night matchup faced with a stern test. By the time the final horn sounded, the Habs had passed with flying colours.
The 2014-15 Habs, and especially Carey Price, have proven capable of protecting their leads. Saturday was no exception, as Montreal immediately battened down the hatches. If not for a Sidney Crosby pass—simultaneously typical and astounding—finding David Perron in a soft area of the slot, the Habs would have matched the loss handed to them in their last game against Pittsburgh.
For the second game in a row, the Canadiens will seek to avenge an embarrassing loss. Since facing the Habs last spring, an upward-trending Tampa Bay team has continued to grow stronger.
By waiving Bryan Allen, the Canadiens have shown a similar quality, in that they are unwilling to stand pat even as their team succeeds. Nathan Beaulieu, one of the team's highest-quality prospects, is a prospect no longer, as Allen's departure signifies his graduation to a full-time NHL role.
With his ascension complete, we'll see if he can swing a game against a team full of players in similar situations.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|49.5||Fenwick % (Within 1)||54.3|
|1.27||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.35|
Know Your Enemy
When Martin St. Louis was dealt to the New York Rangers, the last remaining piece of the Florida franchise's identity left with him. He was a key figure in their cup-winning season of 2003-04, and the team's unquestioned leader in their run to the conference finals seven years later.
St. Louis' role is now filled by Steven Stamkos, a changing of the guard that had been in progress for some time. Even as Stamkos blossomed into one of the league's most dangerous snipers, however, the team around him seemed incomplete. With Steve Yzerman at the helm, that is no longer the case.
Ben Bishop's injury derailed a Bolts squad that had been heavily reliant on his excellent play in the regular season last year, and that reliance stemmed from a number of key roster deficiencies. One way or another, Yzerman has found a way to correct almost all of them.
Tyler Johnson, the NHL's 5th leading scorer, has worked with running mate Ondrej Palat to build on the success they established in their rookie seasons. Nikita Kucherov rounds out what has become one of the NHL's most formidable second lines, and certainly the only one featuring two top-12 point scorers.
Two high draft picks, Brett Connolly and Jonathan Drouin, have been given the opportunity to cut their teeth in the big leagues. That inexperience is offset by the stabilizing presence of versatile veterans Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula. Throw in Brian Boyle to centre the fourth line, and a defence remade with the acquisition of Anton Stralman, and Yzerman has successfully cast off almost all of the dead weight that slowed his team last season.
When the Habs were surprised by Tampa early in the year, it may have been because they were facing a very different team than the one they marauded over months earlier. Judging by Yzerman's track record, that's likely exactly what he intended.
Last Time Out
When the Montreal Canadiens were to last meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, just two games into the season, it was thought that their performance would be a good measurement of their prospects for the campaign. Thankfully, the Habs have shown a lot more than they did that Monday night.
And just as Montreal is not the team that was blown out 36 games ago, the Lightning are not the team that capitulated so readily to the Canadiens last spring. Months away from the games that really matter, teams across the NHL are still firmly in the phase where they seek to define their identities.
Tonight, both of these teams will seek to prove that their identity isn't rooted in their recent failures.