When the Canadiens embarked on what is often their most challenging stretch of schedule, they did so riding a high. Comfortably ahead in the Eastern Conference, and chasing down the President's Trophy, the Habs looked poised to exorcise some of the Californian demons that have haunted them of late.
It was not to be. Even with a new contributor on board, they showed nothing in San Jose. In Anaheim, John Gibson made sure that the Habs could not keep up with the Ducks. Then, despite being smothered by Los Angeles, a three-goal run made it look like the Canadiens finally had their breakthrough. A late goal cost the Habs a point, however, and means that their epiphany is postponed to this evening.
Despite earning just one of six points, Montreal has had some positives on this road trip. Most notably, Jeff Petry's first three games as a Hab have acted as a strong argument in favour of his acquisition. The Kings game marked Devante Smith-Pelly's best effort since he joined the Canadiens.
Facing a vulnerable group at the end of this weary excursion, it's time for Habs to put it all together.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA
In Canada (English): City TV
In the Coyotes region: FS-A Plus
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|48.8||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||47.6|
|1.21||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.6|
Know Your Enemy
The Arizona Coyotes are a part of the NHL's unholy trinity, where they, along with the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, demonstrate profound levels of incompetence. The Coyotes generate more shot attempts than only nine other NHL squads, only five teams allow more shot attempts than Arizona. Combine that futility with some abysmal goaltending, and you end up with the team that has allowed more goals than any other in 2014-15.
With no choice but to look forward, Don Maloney took most his team's older, valuable parts and sold them to the highest bidder. While his decision not to trade Shane Doan was somewhat confounding, the Coyotes' General Manager got strong returns for the players he did deal. Antoine Vermette, Keith Yandle, and Zbynek Michalek returned multiple first round picks and prospects, which will combine with the Coyotes' only high pick to take a big step toward rebuilding the embattled franchise.
None of that will help Mike Smith tonight, though. The moves leave Arizona without their best centre, most dangerous offensive defenceman, and top shutdown specialist, and in their wake is a squad perilously close to an AHL team. Their roster is a mix of bottom-sixers playing above their heads, waiver pick-up fill-ins, and youngsters not quite ready for the limelight.
When Arizona earned a win over Vancouver on Thursday night, it marked just their third since they beat Montreal to start the month of February. The Coyotes that the Habs will play tonight are not the same squad they faced earlier this year, but the Habs should be out for a measure of revenge anyway.
Last Time Out
Much like tonight, the Canadiens last game against the Coyotes was previewed as an opportunity to finally break a slump. The Habs were coming off consecutive victories, but had scored only two combined goals in those wins. Facing a team not known for doing much to support their struggling goaltenders, and only 24 hours removed from a shellacking at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, the Coyotes game looked like a perfect chance for the Habs to erupt offensively.
We all recall the outcome. Louis Domingue, making his first NHL start, held Montreal to two goals, and none in the game's final 55 minutes. Meanwhile, the Canadiens' skaters squandered that early two goal advantage, eventually allowing three consecutive Arizona goals and earning zero points in the process. The game was sloppy, and whether it was the forwards failing to capitalize after exploiting the Coyotes faulty D, the defense tipping pucks past their own goaltender, or Dustin Tokarski drifting away from his post at inopportune moments, the Habs were simply not up to the challenge.
Tonight, the game should be different. Recent results aside, the Canadiens are an improved squad. The Coyotes, meanwhile, are a shell of a team, drifting toward a draft that they hope will bring them another piece to stabilize their still murky future.
The Habs need not wait for the future, however. Playing a team that surprised them five weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens are primed for a win tonight.