The longer a slump continues, the more difficult it becomes to maintain one's composure. On Saturday night in Dallas, the composure disappeared.
Only 48 hours after the puck dropped on what would become an embarrassing rout at the hands of their supposed contemporary, the Canadiens will face another difficult test this evening. They need to return to the style of play that has buoyed their success this season, but thankfully, they're only about 40 minutes of hockey removed from it.
Despite the string of recent losses, and the forgettable latter two periods they put together on the weekend, the Habs have consistently played the type of hockey worthy of winning games. While it has led to some likely unproductive line-jugging, the panic starting to beset this franchise is unfounded.
Something needs to change for the Montreal Canadiens, but the team would be wise to look for an extrinsic change on the horizon before looking inward. Facing a team that thrives on low-scoring, disciplined hockey, they may be getting exactly what they need.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|53.7||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||55.0|
|1.16||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.10|
Know Your Enemy
The Predators' offence revolves largely around three players: Mike Ribeiro, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal. Ribeiro and Forsberg represent two-thirds of the first line, while Neal is the team's best shot producer and finisher. Despite the efforts of these three, however, the Predators haven't enjoyed much success in the other team's end this season.
Nine of the top-10 scoring forwards in this game, in terms of points per sixty minutes of play, will wear the Sainte Flanelle this evening. Somehow, remarkably, the Predators are enduring an offensive slump to rival Montreal's, with goals so scarce it's as if Nashville is playing themselves night after night. The result is a moderate drop in the standings, as the Predators have managed only four wins in their last 16 games.
Beyond their offensive shortcomings, though, is a team that suppresses offence like no other. They allow fewer unblocked shot attempts than any other squad, and even with Pekka Rinne having not his best season, Nashville is a top-three team in goals against, too. For a stifled squad like the Canadiens, generating offence in tonight's game represents a monumental challenge.
The co-team-leading scorers, and first defensive pair, are the fulcrum of the team. Shea Weber and Roman Josi play the biggest minutes by a wide margin, taking on the NHL's best and brightest and coming out ahead. By shouldering a huge portion of the defensive burden, they allow their teammates - especially Seth Jones and Barret Jackman - to face a lesser challenge.
The Canadiens have far superior offensive depth to the Predators, but if they're to win tonight, they'll need to neutralize Josi and Weber. If that's to happen, they'll need their own best players to finally break-out themselves.
Last Time Out
Two games between these two teams produced two low-scoring outcomes, with the more recent a 3-2 Nashville win in extra time. Carey Price and Rinne were the unquestioned stars of the evening, going toe-to-toe with spectacular saves at both ends.
Mattias Ekholm batted home a rolling puck to open the scoring, but the Nashville lead was nullified by Brendan Gallagher's hard work in the crease. A David Desharnais snipe gave Montreal a lead of their own, but a bouncing Ryan Ellis effort found its way behind Price to tie things up again.
In overtime, a 4-on-3 powerplay for Nashville was Montreal's undoing. Two members of Nashville's scoring triumvirate connected in OT, with Ribeiro finding Forsberg for a back-door goal on which Price had little chance.
The Pekka Rinne the Habs play tonight may not be the same goalie they faced last season, but Nashville's prowess in their own zone will offer Montreal little opportunity to exploit him.
48 hours removed from a battle with the league's best offensive team, the Canadiens will face the squad that is arguably the best defensive group league-wide. Mired in a disheartening slump, the challenge becomes only greater.
Some way, somehow, the Canadiens must find a way to win. Perhaps a stint in the harshest conditions, where goals are hardest to come by, is exactly what they need to regain their confidence.