It may have marked the end of a three game winning streak. It may come against a team in a slump. But with a solid effort against a solid team on Tuesday night, the Canadiens looked more like themselves.
They went toe-to-toe with Nashville on possession and scoring chances. They challenged Pekka Rinne, and forced him to make a couple of the spectacular plays he is known to make. Tonight, they have to do it again, and against a team that is firmly in crunch time.
They'll have to do it without their best player. Carey Price will take a seat this evening, as his workload is lightened with the playoffs approaching. It's also a chance for Tokarski to stretch his muscles in a real, meaningful game, knowing that if everything goes to plan, his season will be over in just a few short weeks.
The Canadiens opponents tonight are also in danger of having their season come to end early in April. If they wish to keep their tenuous grip on a playoff spot, they'll have to get past a goalie coming off o one of his best performances as a Hab.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|48.7||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||52.6|
|1.22||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.09|
Know Your Enemy
The Winnipeg Jets have taken a much different approach to success than the Montreal Canadiens, and they have reached the lofty heights of Presidents Trophy contention, they seem to have found a sustainable recipe for winning hockey games.
The Canadiens have enjoyed near perfect goaltending and exceptional injury luck this year, and Winnipeg hasn't come close to being able to rely on either of those things.
The Jets stand fifth in terms of TMITT, a formula that considers a players average time on ice when calculating man games lost to injury. This approach reflects the significant injuries that Paul Maurice has had to cope with this season, as nearly all of Winnipeg's big names have missed time at one moment or another.
Off-season addition Mathieu Perrault remains on the IR, and will not face the Canadiens tonight. Meanwhile, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien, who are one of Winnipeg's best forwards and without question their best defender, respectively, are questionable for this evening. Both missed the Jets' recent two game road trip, with tonight's game mentioned as their first possibility for return.
Their absences amplify the importance of Winnipeg's recent personnel moves. Drew Stafford and Jiri Tlusty provide critical offensive depth, while Tyler Myers gives the Jets a defenceman that can carry the load if Buff can't go. Meanwhile, young players like Adam Lowry are responding well to increased responsibility.
The team's success, despite these many and various trials, drive home the value of Paul Maurice's system. By emphasizing puck possession, Maurice has found a way to keep his team competitive, even without the big picture "bounces" going in his favour.
The state of Winnipeg's goaltending has furthered their reliance on their skaters. Ondrej Pavelec is Ondrej Pavelec, and even at a level well above his career average, the Czech keeper is still only average for the league. Mike Hutchinson, who was a pleasant surprise at the season's outset, has regressed greatly. The Barrie native has allowed three or more goals in four of his last give starts, including a particularly ugly outing against the St. Louis Blues.
Their collective performance has fans of the Jets looking at their options, but for tonight, it looks like it will be one of the tandem of Pavelec and Hutchinson who will be given the start tonight. The tandem has taken the Jets further than they have ever gone since the NHL returned to Manitoba, and tonight, the team will ask their goalie to take them one step further.
Last Time Out
Just as a playoff appearance would be a significant milestone for Winnipeg, Montreal's last game against the Jets was momentous as well: it marked their first contest without the likes of Travis Moen and Rene Bourque. With the dead weight cast off, the Habs enjoyed a 3-0 victory in November.
That CP31 shutout raised his season save percentage to .918, a mark that looks positively pedestrian in light of his accomplishments to date. In front of him, the line of Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, and Jiri Sekac were tremendous, breaking through their defensive deployment to create opportunities at the other end.
David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty's performance stood in contrast to the play of their third line, as the pair, alongside Dale Weise, struggled despite cushy minutes. Flanked by the skillful P.A. Parenteau, that line will try to seek to wreak the offensive havoc they are capable of.
Finally, the Canadiens will only have one of their two excellent defencemen from last game. Tom Gilbert will sit out again tonight, so the Habs won't have the services of a player who was one of the game's best last time out. The other contender for best d-man, though, was Nathan Beaulieu, and he will slot in to Gilbert's spot this evening.
The Jets entered last game looking like they might finally be for real, and evidenced by the fact that they are still fighting off the Los Angeles Kings for eighth place at the end of March, it looks like their season has borne out that promise.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have struggled in some ways to live up to their promise, but against Nashville, they too looked like a real team. Tonight, they get another chance to prove their mettle.