When the Habs lined up to face-off against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were skating into their toughest challenge of the season. With a date with the Metro-leading New York Rangers on tap for tonight, that same proclamation is true tonight.
Fortunately, the Canadiens are gunning on all cylinders, and playing like a team with few of the weaknesses that were so prevalent last year. When Tomas Fleischmann broke through against the Penguins, it gave each of the Habs' four lines at least one goal on the campaign.
Meanwhile, a top six forward has scored at least two goals in each of the Canadiens' four wins. And best of all, the Canadiens' balanced offence has been propelled by an entertaining style of play with a greater emphasis on puck possession. They'll need all of that if they're to stick with one of the beasts of the East this evening.
Given their success, the Habs are unlikely to make roster moves until their hand is forced, either by injury, poor play, or otherwise. Until that time though, the Canadiens can be confident, knowing that they've done everything they need to in order to be successful so far. Tonight, we'll find out if they can do it against the strongest opposition they've faced so far.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet 360
In the Rangers region: MSG
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|58.6||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||45.8|
|2.66||5v5 Goal Ratio||2.75|
Know Your Enemy
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The rivalry isn't there yet, but the Rangers have many of the ingredients of a great nemesis for the Habs. Their goaltender is one of an elite few who is worth comparing to Carey Price, and with their mix of established talent, exciting young players, and all-around depth, the Blueshirts are poised to contend for a fourth consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Rangers have been nearly as successful as Montreal has been to open the season, winning their first three games before falling to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Despite the loss, the Rangers were extremely effective in moving the puck, but were ultimately foiled by Jets' keeper Michael Hutchinson. While Price is a good bet to offer staunch play in net tonight, the Habs probably shouldn't bank on getting four goals past Lundqvist.
The Swedish netminder's play has been typically excellent to start the year, and his contributions have been matched only by the dominance of Rick Nash up front. Alain Vigneault's crew earned 13 scoring chances with Nash on the ice on Tuesday, and gave up an auspicious zero. Much like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on Tuesday, frustrating Nash will be priority number one for the Canadiens defenders.
Finally, Vigneault looks to have made one crucial adjustment to his fourth line, removing Tanner Glass and creating a more capable trio of Jesper Fast, Dominic Moore, and Jarret Stoll. While leaving Emerson Etem in the press box isn't quite maximizing one's talent, Glass' omission from the roster removes what may be New York's weakest point.
With four balanced forward lines, and three solid defensive pairs, the Rangers should be the 2015-16 opponent best prepared to go head-to-head with Montreal so far.
Last Time Out
That type of back-and-forth affair is exactly what transpired last January, when these two teams battled to a scoreless draw for the first 55 minutes of play. With both goaltenders refusing to allow a goal, it was Lundqvist who blinked first, succumbing to Max Pacioretty's deceptive release in giving up the eventual game winner.
The game featured plenty of aggression, including a notable scuffle between P.K. Subban and Chris Kreider. As touched on during last night's Ice Level, the Canadiens have done a much better job of maintaining their discipline through their first four games, and that skill may come in handy this evening. Otherwise, the Habs will look for much of what they got last time - another strong showing from their depth players, and the continued excellence of their insurance policy in net.
With four straight wins, the Canadiens have already done plenty to bolster their credibility as a cup contender this year. With a victory over a potential rival this evening, the Habs could do even more to strengthen that argument.