The Montreal Canadiens have had it pretty good this season.
After a record-breaking 9-0 start, the team encountered their first spell of adversity: two disheartening losses, an imperfect win over one of the league's doormats, and the loss of their star goalie for at least four games.
So how did they react? With a return to the dominant form that got them started.
Mike Condon, in the infancy of his NHL career, has looked every ounce the confident and capable back-up the Habs thought they were getting when they named him the winner of the training camp goalie competition. Now, making his third consecutive start, Condon will get another look at a team he shut down almost one month ago.
The team still has problems to solve, such as managing the ice time of one-too-many qualified forwards, or finding even a shred of ice for their numbers seven and eight defencemen. For a team still comfortably in first league-wide, however, these are minor quibbles.
The Canadiens are in a good place right now, and with the Ottawa Senators in a bit of a rough patch, the Habs have a good shot to keep it going.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|52.5||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.4|
|1.82||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.15|
Know Your Enemy
When the Senators lost Clarke MacArthur not long after their last encounter with Montreal, they were forced to make due without a top-six fixture and one of their most effective possession players.
Tonight, thanks to some Department of Player Safety action, they'll be without another one of their big guns.
Mark Stone was given a two-game suspension for a misplaced shot to the head of Detroit Red Wings forward Landon Ferraro, and will serve the first game of his ban this evening.
Fortunately for Ottawa, his absence will be offset somewhat by the returns of Mike Hoffman and Curtis Lazar from a lower-body injury and concussion, respectively. Stone is a top-10 NHL scorer going into Monday night's games, and has six points in nine games in his career against Montreal.
Hoffman's talents won't entirely replace Stone's impact play, but it does somewhat relieve the burden that would otherwise be placed on the shoulders of leading scorer Kyle Turris.
As usual, the Senators will also be dependent on the talents of Erik Karlsson to drive their offence from the back-end, but, like the Winnipeg Jets, there's a serious deficiency at the bottom end of the defence corps.
The Senators have been under 50% possession events in seven of their 11 games so far—often dramatically so. The biggest anchor at even strength is easily that third defensive pair, but despite its struggles, its members find themselves used nearly as often as Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch.
The situation has caused a major point of contention among Sens fans, as a growing contingent advocates for the promotion of the slick Chris Wideman to the regular roster. For now, though, it looks like the Habs will get another crack at the same defensive configuration they broke down in the season's early going.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens achieved total domination last time out, leaving the Senators to contend with their precise passing and aggressive forecheck with all of the composure of a person trying to contend with a leaking roof using pots and pans.
Tomas Plekanec immediately made Matt O'Connor uncomfortable, banking a shot off the rookie and in for the opening goal. It was Plekanec striking again shortly thereafter, as he corralled an Erik Karlsson shot high in the defensive zone and pushed it forward for a breakaway.
The result was a puck through O'Connor's five hole, and the Hometown Hockey cameras found a frustrated Karlsson for the second time in ten minutes. A P.K. Subban misplay, compounded by a lack of support from his teammates on the powerplay, allowed Jean-Gabriel Pageau to walk in for his customary goal against the Habs, but Subban helped get it back when his pass/shot was tipped-in by Torrey Mitchell.
The Canadiens have done well taking on all comers so far this season, but when it comes down to it, opportunities for points may never be as plentiful as when they line up opposite their fellow clubs in this year's pillow-soft Atlantic Division.
With the Senators missing two of their most important forwards, tonight is another chance for Montreal to keep their good thing going.