The Canadiens might like to breath a little easier now that they have finally put a six-game losing streak behind them. Unfortunately for them, it's right back to work with the second game in as many nights - this time against the Florida Panthers who sit one point behind the Habs for the Atlantic Division lead with two games in hand.
With some forwards getting a monkey off their backs last night, this evening all eyes will shift towards the newest member of the Canadiens: goaltender Ben Scrivens.
Having joined the team yesterday after being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, Scrivens will make his first start in Habs colours in Florida.
The Alberta-native has not played a game in the NHL this season, and has only seen the ice in 10 for the AHL's Bakersfield Condors. However, some questionable stats are no reason to doubt the potential value he could have for the Habs, who are still awaiting the return of Carey Price.
Doubtlessly, the mood surrounding the Canadiens tomorrow will be a little improved. Their win against the Tampa Bay Lightning only hours ago may not have been textbook, but at this point the Habs will take two points however they can get them.
Tonight, for the first time in a long time, they look to make it two wins in a row.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|53.6||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.3|
|1.06||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.17|
Know Your Enemy
The Panthers are a team that has had success through an ability to make the most of their chances. With a team On-Ice Shooting Percentage of 7.8%, they sit 10th in the NHL in that regard. Paired with some particularly strong goaltending from veteran Roberto Luongo, it's no surprise that the Panthers are fighting the Habs for tops in the Atlantic Division. The question the Panthers will need to deal with is whether or not such a performance can be sustained.
In any event, right now the Panthers are just plain hot. With six straight victories, the Habs face a tall task in trying to shut them down. Part of that has to do with an offence that has been potent in recent weeks, led by a pair of seasoned pros in Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen, who lead the team in points with 25 and 23 respectively.
The identity of the Panthers' offence, however, is the youth movement. Youngsters like Aleksandr Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trochek are all productive players who aren't trailing Jagr by very much.
Barkov has been having a solid season in all regards, especially by possession metrics, with only Jagr having a better CF% among forwards. Barkov has been able to turn that possession into meaningful opportunities, with 16.69% more high danger scoring chances than the team average.
Perhaps the most notable of the Panthers youth is on defence in Aaron Ekblad, who won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie last season. Seemingly unaffected by the famed "sophomore slump", Ekblad is on pace to once again break the 30 point mark as a teenage blue-liner.
One area where Ekblad has taken a step forward is in finding the back of the net, having scored nine goals already this season compared to 12 throughout all of last year. Leading the entire team in CF%, Ekblad is proving to be a dominant force on the back-end.
Luongo has long been among the elite goaltenders in the NHL and he is proving this year that nothing has changed. With a .924 SV%, "Lou" has been getting it done on a nightly basis. However, he is not alone. While he has certainly been handling the lion's share of the work in Florida, the Panthers have found a reliable backup in Al Montoya, who carries a 5-1-1 record and a .930 SV% of his own.
Last Time Out
The last time these teams met was down the stretch of last season as the Canadiens were gearing up for a playoff push, while the Panthers were sitting on the outside looking in.
The Habs were able to strike early on that night; Tomas Plekanec netting a power play goal just over six minutes into the first period, giving his team a 1-0 lead that they would take into the second.
The Panthers would tie things up with a power play goal of their own, but were quickly overshadowed by a Brendan Gallagher goal mere seconds later, restoring the Canadiens lead. P.A. Parenteau and Devante Smith-Pelly would each add a marker to help the Habs to a 4-1 victory over their divisional opponent.
The key to victory back in April was twofold. Scoring on your opportunities, and having Price in goal as a safeguard. Price stopped all 20 shots he faced at even strength, while the Habs scored four times on just 28 shots.
It remains to be seen what kind of goaltending we will see from the newly acquired Scrivens, though the Habs certainly hope it will look something like Price's performance the last time the Canadiens and Panthers faced off. As for the scoring, a step forward was taken last night as Plekanec, Dale Weise, and Alex Galchenyuk all found the back of the net. With any luck, the Habs will be able to take another positive step this evening.