Having their superstar goaltender back in the crease was supposed to give the Canadiens a boost in their percentages. In the end, that's exactly what happened - just at the end opposite of where Carey Price was playing.
After ceding the opening goal in five straight games, the Canadiens exploded for three tallies in the opening frame, heading into the first intermission with a two goal lead. They earned those goals on the strength of some of the hallmarks of their style, including two goals in transition and two goals created by activating their defencemen (Nathan Beaulieu checked both of those boxes).
Having their defencemen play aggressively has been an effective tactic all season long, and in the first period especially, the Islanders had difficulty handling it. The Habs also showed the ability to complete some lateral passes in the offensive zone, setting up a couple of the high quality chances that led to goals.
In fact, the Canadiens may wish to look to that first period as something of a blueprint for their success tonight. The Islanders, meanwhile, are hoping that tonight looks more like the final 40.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|53.1||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||50.0|
|1.41||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.05|
Know Your Enemy
The Islanders' ability to break down Montreal's defence was on display when Brock Nelson buried his team's first goal, but it was especially evident during the final period of Friday night's contest. The Islanders out-attempted Montreal 21-8 in that final period, and had the game's outcome looking tenuous until, like last time, Brendan Gallagher put it away late.
Like the game before, John Tavares was dominant on Friday, and the Canadiens will need to find a way to stop Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Brock Nelson tonight. With the advantage of last change, Michel Therrien will have the option of using last change to the get the matchup he wants.
Not only is Therrien often disinclined to play the matchup game, though, there may not be a good matchup to use. Tavares and Co. had great success against each of the Canadiens best shutdown players, including P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Jeff Petry. All in all, his best bet may be to keep the Isles' star centre as far away from the bottom of his lineup as possible, and hope that the big guns have more success containing #91 than they did last game.
Meanwhile, the Islanders also had great success in uniting Nick Leddy and Travis Hamonic as their first pair. Playing mostly with New York's first line, the less-used pair had a stellar outing, and gave the Isles a five-man unit that was basically dominant each time they stepped on the ice.
The Canadiens can look to exploit the new second pair of Calvin De Haan and Johnny Boychuk, though, as they did not find chemistry together as quickly. Primarily facing the Desharnais line, the pair could not keep their heads above water on possession, and left Tomas Fleischmann and his linemates all kinds of space when he hammered home his first period goal.
The Islanders have decent depth, but through two games, their top line has been the one to give the Canadiens fits. The play of the Islanders' stars, and the Canadiens' efforts to counteract them, will be fundamental to tonight's outcome.
Last Time Out
Of course, if there was one factor that stood above the play of the Islanders' skaters, it was the play of their starting goaltender. Jaroslav Halak was abysmal in his 20 minutes of ice, allowing the Habs to stake themselves to the lead they would not give up.
Some slack is due on the first goal, perhaps, as Halak became disoriented on a tricky play by the Canadiens' fourth line, and could not recover in time to subdue a net-charging Jeff Petry. The second goal was no more than a sharp angle slapper from Fleischmann, however, and Nathan Beaulieu's unscreened wrister from the high slot was almost certainly not worthy of becoming a goal.
In relief of Halak, Thomas Greiss allowed only one goal, on a seeing-eye tip from his own teammate. was at least adequate in his return from injury, but while he was expected to bestow an advantage on his club, it was the play of their opponent's goalie that truly made the difference.
Jack Capuano has managed to put his stars in position to succeed against Montreal so far, but when he puts pen to paper and records his starting goaltender for tonight's game, he may be making the most important decision toward whether this home-and-home series ends in a split or a sweep.