After a full season of near-impeccable team health, the Canadiens started to experience some adversity with the losses of Carey Price, Alexei Emelin, Torrey Mitchell, and briefly, Devante Smith-Pelly. Tonight, in the absence of Brendan Gallagher, they'll begin to take on a much greater challenge.
Gallagher's loss goes deeper than the impressive numbers he has put up in the box score. As Berkshire pointed out on last night's Ice Level, No Canadiens forward gains the offensive zone more efficiently than #11, and few players in the NHL have put up more scoring chances this season than the Habs' top right-winger. That loss of proficiency places a huge burden on Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec, who will be asked to continue to function as a number one line without that bastion of strength to their right.
If they aren't up to the challenge, the effect on the Canadiens' lineup may be less of a trickle-down, and more of a breaking dam.
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Tale of the Tape
|53.3||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||47.2|
|1.33||5v5 Goal Ratio||2.68|
Know Your Enemy
If the Canadiens talent deficit is to undermine their standing near the top of the Eastern Conference, the first place New York Rangers will be ready to take advantage. The Rangers are absolute killing it in terms of goal production at even strength, as exemplified by their maintenance of an absurd 2.68 5v5 goal ratio past the quarter mark of the season.
The sustainability of that production has come into question, however, as the Rangers lead the league in score-adjusted on-ice shot and save percentage at even strength so far. Fortunately for the Canadiens, they may be just the team to crack those percentages open.
Henrik Lundqvist has been superb through nearly a month-and-a-half of play, but his career achievements against the Habs have been less than stellar. In fact, of teams against which he has made at least eight appearances, Henrik's save percentage of .903 against Montreal ranks second-to-last.
The Rangers are giving up less than a goal per game at even strength on average, but with three goals in their previous match-up, damage inflicted by Montreal accounts for over 15% of New York's league-leading 19 even strength goals against.
That still leaves New York's offence to worry about, though, as they too pace the league at even strength. Production has been varied, with young contributors Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes, and Chris Kreider continuing to impress, while usual suspects the likes of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Derek Stepan have also chipped in.
With four goals in his last two games, even Rick Nash looks like he may be heating up. Down one-third of their best shutdown line, and one of their most useful defensive players in Mitchell, the Habs will need Carey Price to quickly resume his top form if his team is to stay in the game.
Last Time Out
Price proved up to that challenge last time out, earning a shutout victory in Montreal's fifth game of season. The Rangers were billed as the Canadiens' toughest opponent to-date at the time, and that likely remains true for this game.
After a first period held mostly by the Rangers, the Canadiens owned the final 40, and eventually came away with a 3-0 win. Besides Tomas Plekanec's empty-netter to seal it, there were also two pretty goals by the Habs "third" line, as Tomas Fleischmann made a skillful play down low, and Dale Weise was the beneficiary of some offensive zone puck movement.
Of course, neither play approached the magnitude of Carey Price's inadvertent obstruction of an unidentified Ranger. That play is evidence of a little part of what makes Price so great, but tonight, the Canadiens need to see the part that had his name etched on so many trophies last season.
Price is the embodiment of Montreal's greatest injury-related hardship so far this year. Now, coincidentally, he is the person best-positioned to help his team endure the next one.