The Canadiens entered a winnable game on Monday, and although they made it interesting, they found a way to emerge with two points. Tonight, in the first of back-to-back games, the Habs will contend with a similar challenge.
Like the Vancouver Canucks, the Coyotes have handed over significant responsibility to a contingent of young players. And in Arizona, as in B.C., the kids' contributions have not entirely offset what was been a middling start. Thanks to an improbably poor Pacific Division, however, both teams remain in the playoff hunt. That said, make no mistake: like the Canucks, the Coyotes are eminently beatable.
For a Canadiens team enjoying an easier stretch of their schedule, now is the time to soak up as many points as possible.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
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|1.44||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.00|
Know Your Enemy
While the comings and goings of the NHL's Arizona franchise may often escape the view of the casual observer, the hype machine has made sure that least one story has had regular coverage.
The play of rookie phenom Max Domi has been far beyond expectations, thrusting him into a Calder Trophy competition previously thought to be a two-horse race. Teaming up with Martin Hanzal on the Coyotes' first line, the 20-year-old has helped improve his team's standing from last year's league-low mark for even strength offence to this year's top-10 output.
The Coyotes new, higher-powered offence doesn't end with the top line, either. Anthony Duclair, though not to the same extent as Domi, has been productive. Speedy winger Mikkel Boedker is also worth watching, especially since Conor McKenna has him penciled in on Galchenyuk's wing for the Habs' playoff run.
Of course, it isn't just the offensive output that has heated up in the desert. The Coyotes' team shooting percentage has also skyrocketed, lending credence to the idea that their presently prodigious productivity may not hold up in the long run. That won't comfort the Canadiens tonight, though, as the Coyotes will be their fourth-highest scoring opponent to-date.
Fortunately for the Habs, the Coyotes' D leaves something to be desired. There are no heavy-lifters beyond the top pair of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Michael Stone, and the result is a team that allows the sixth-most shots per minute of play. When the goaltending is as bad as the Coyotes' has been, between probable starter Mike Smith and back-up Anders Lindback, that's a recipe for trouble.
Until the Coyotes can do something miraculous, like trade a journeyman for a Hall of Fame defenceman, their crease will remain vulnerable.
Last Time Out
So while the Chris Pronger trade may not have been the team-saving move it would have been, say, a decade earlier, the Coyotes did have a decent off-season.
After shipping out players like Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette, and Zbynek Michalek at the trade deadline, the Dogs deftly repatriated the latter two while reaping the rewards of the seller-friendly deadline market. While Yandle remains in New York, the Coyotes have Duclair to show for his absence, not to mention Klas Dahlbeck and the host of other picks and prospects they exchanged for the two months they lived without Michalek and Vermette. Even better, all of this benefited the Canadiens directly when they faced Arizona last March, as the Habs got to face a team that was a shell of its already lottery-bound self.
The Habs entered that game on the heels of an 0-for-3 swing through California, and only five weeks removed from a wretched outing against the Coyotes. This time, however, the Habs dominated, pushing the play for two periods and earning a goal courtesy of the short-lived union of Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly.
In a less-than-wise fashion, they then elected to sit back and watch as the undermanned Coyotes pressed desperately for a tying goal in the third. Thankfully, that tying goal never came, and Brendan Gallagher iced the affair with an empty-netter in the waning moments.
Thanks to the return of some of the team's veteran stalwarts, and an infusion of talented youth, the Coyotes that the Habs will face tonight should be much better than the version that Montreal had to contend with last spring. If the Canadiens play up to their potential, though, the outcome should be the same.