The Montreal Canadiens have had a fairly forgettable March. They have only four win in their ten games, month-to-date, and only one of those came over a competent team.
With a win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, however, the Habs have strung together consecutive wins for the first time in nearly three weeks. Tonight, they'll try to clear a much higher hurdle.
The San Jose Sharks got the Canadiens month off to a wretched start, beating a listless, travel-weary Habs group 4-0. Despite being mired in the midst of a down year for the perennially competitive franchise, the Sharks declined yield a goal to Montreal for the third consecutive game. Withthe lockout-shortened 2013 season wiping out a year of interconference play, and the infrequent schedule on which these teams play each other under normal circumstances, one must go back to December 2, 2011, to find Montreal's last regular season goal against the Sharks. It takes little more than to point out that the goal was scored by Erik Cole, and assisted by Mike Cammalleri, for one to understand how long ago that was.
The Habs have 10 games to go this year, and while playoff seeding, home ice advantage, and even the Presidents Trophy are still to be decided, their entrance to the playoffs is assured. Tonight, they'll seek to damage the chances of a team playing on much less certain terms.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|48.6||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||50.8|
|1.22||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.93|
Know Your Enemy
Six points down with only eleven games to go, every minute of hockey is significant for San Jose. Sports Club Stats puts the Sharks playoff odds at only 9%, and if they were to lose to Montreal is regulation this evening, those chances would be cut in half.
Part of the problem in San Jose this year is the lack of top-to-bottom quality that has characterized its rosters for the past several years. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and a rotating cast of others have always ensured that there is star power at the top, but with lower roster spots wasted on one-dimensional players, Todd McLellan has had a difficult time ensuring that those starts are adequately supported.
Of course, McLellan has made his own job more difficult, too. Look no further than his decision to move Brent Burns, who featured as a fearsome power forward last year, back to the blueline as evidence that talent is not being put to optimal use.
Compounding both of McLellan's problems is the timing of the challenging years that some of his typically productive players have suffered. Patrick Marleau currently has the the lowest goal total he has produced since he was an 18-year-old rookie in 1997-98. Meanwhile, Tomas Hertl has failed to entirely capture the promise he demonstrated last season, as he has generated only three more points than last season in 34 more games.
When players like Marleau and Hertl aren't lighting the lamp, the burden shifts to the Sharks other stars. If SJ wishes to stay alive, the two players who have carried the team's water all season will need to keep it going tonight.
Last Time Out
Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski have been excellent all season long, and their performance against Montreal was no exception. The pair were each on for two goals, but more impressively, they laid the wood to the Canadien forwards who opposed them.
Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, and Dale Weise were frequently forced backward by the line of Thornton, Pavelski, and Melker Karlsson, and when the Habs trio wasn't insulated by P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, things got particularly ugly. In the end, Galchenyuk and Plekanec finished 15 shot attempts under .500, while Weise clocked in at -12. Even their efforts to counter-attack were futile, as Weise gained and lost a prime scoring chance in rapid, comedic fashion.
Recently, Michel Therrien has lined up his best winger alongside Plekanec, and if Plekanec were flanked by Max Pacioretty againt tonight, he would likely have a much better opportunity to slow down one of the league's most potent offensive combinations.
After missing the Carolina game with the flu, Jeff Petry was back at practice yesterday, and may be poised to return to the lineup this evening. Despite being a member of the Canadiens for less than 24 hours, Petry may have been the Habs most effective defender in their last foray into San Jose. With the Habs first pair tied up, the ability of players like Tom Gilbert, Jeff Petry, and Nathan Beaulieu (should the latter two defenders make it into the lineup this evening) to start the offence will be critical to breaking the shutout streak.
Beyond putting an end to the goalless drought, though, Montreal has a chance to earn some more significant revenge, as well. Three weeks ago, the Canadiens were unable to put a dent in San Jose's chances. Tonight, the Habs have the opportunity to a nail in San Jose's coffin.