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Canadiens vs Panthers game preview

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After opening their back-to-back with a loss to Ottawa, can the Habs rebound against the Panthers?

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Canadiens stumbled in Kanata last night, and in a matter of unfortunate timing, didn't have their insurance policy to protect them.

Carey Price was forced to watch from the bench as Erik Karlsson worked his magic, and the Habs simply couldn't get enough offence going to overcome three goals put past Dustin Tokarski. Even worse, they saw two defenceman of their own suffer injuries, as Alexei Emelin and P.K. Subban both missed shifts.

Thankfully, Subban returned and worked some magic of his own, breaking up odd man rushes with one good foot. Much like Price and Max Pacioretty, the Habs continuing success rests disproportionately on the shoulders of their skilled defender, so Montreal will have to hope that Subban is not hindered through one of the busiest parts of their schedule.

Emelin's injury was clearly more severe. He slammed awkwardly into the boards while attempting a hit on Mark Stone, and with that, his first shift was also his last. Jarred Tinordi was called up from the Bulldogs shortly after the game, completing the substitution that many Habs fans have been requesting for some time.

There won't be much time to dwell on the loss. Fans and front office alike will get a look at their new defence corps this evening, as the Habs are right back at it against the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers mark the second consecutive Habs opponent fighting for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. With 26 games remaining in their schedule, Florida is two points back of the Boston Bruins, who will face the Edmonton Oilers this evening.

If the Panthers want to keep up, they'll have to shake their track record as one of the league's lowest scoring teams and crack Carey Price. Considering that Price has allowed eight goals in his last eight starts, this may be a tall order.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Panthers region: Fox Sports Florida
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Panthers
37-15-4 Record 25-19-12
7-2-1 L10 Record 4-4-2
49.1 Score-Adjusted Fenwick % 50.9
150 Goals For 138
123
Goals Against 155
1.20 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.07
16.7 PP% 15.6
85.4 PK% 78.8

*Excluding last night's game.

Know Your Enemy

The Cats are coming off a 3-2 win over Toronto, which snapped a three game losing streak. Phil Kessel scored in the final minute of the third period, reducing the deficit to one, but the Leafs couldn't close the deal in their remaining 50 seconds.

The Panthers should be grateful that they held off the Maple Leafs, as they may not have claimed their point had the contest headed to an extra frame. No NHL team has lost more games after sixty minutes than Florida. In many ways, the Panthers are a solid club, and while they're benefiting from their loser points, a few more extra time wins could have solidified their playoff aspirations.

The Panthers get steady goaltending from Roberto Luongo, but they also have to overcome the league's third-worst team even strength shooting percentage. Nonetheless, the team has remained competitive, playing an anti-Montreal sort of style.

The team's roster is almost universally positive on possession, with only four players being out-shot when they're on the ice. Those players include hard minutes defenceman Erik Gudbranson, 24-year-old Dylan Olsen, tough guy Shawn Thornton, and the man who spends more time on ice with Thornton than any other Panther, Derek MacKenzie.

Gudbranson and Olsen have an excuse: they start more shifts in their own zone than almost any defender in the NHL. Thornton can't use the same alibi. If he wasn't going to be possession-positive on the dominant Bruin teams he's played on most recently, he probably won't be on an up-and-coming Florida squad, either.

In any case, there's none single-minded reliance on the dominance of a small cadre of star players that has characterized the Canadiens play to date. The Panthers have good young talent, and Gerard Gallant is giving his group the support it needs.

Last Time Out

The Habs earned a 2-1 victory in the shootout, overcoming a late Florida game-tying goal, on the strength of P.A.  Parenteau's heroics in the shootout. The Canadiens won't have the luxury of their talented right winger this evening, as he continues to nurse his concussion, but their opponent will be shorthanded as well. The Panthers will be without Dmitry Kulikov, as he serves his suspension for clipping Tyler Seguin. The Russian rearguard played almost 24 minutes on December 30 against Montreal, and the Cats will be impacted by the absence of his shot-generating talent. He will be replaced by journeyman Shane O'Brien.

It was Dustin Tokarski that started that last game of 2014, and he set the bar very high for his counterpart. Tokarski made 38 saves on 39 shots, carrying the Habs to the shootout and giving them a shot at an extra point. It was the type of night that made it look like Tokarski might be learning from his talented crease-mate, as he reprised Price's role of game-stealer for 65 minutes plus.

Tonight, however, it's all about the Canadiens not-so-secret weapon. When the student gives way to his teacher, the Habs go back to being the type of team that can make anything happen.