The Montreal Canadiens opened their preseason with 60+ minutes of hockey that was unmistakably preseason puck. The breakouts were sloppy, the passes less than crisp, and goals occurred only in the immediate aftermath of each team's more egregious defensive errors.
Of course, it is likely impractical for one to judge effort level and preparation during the time period designated for teams to plan, practice, and rev up their intensity. Same goes for systems, as different players need time to gel in the structure being put in place by coaches with new responsibilities.
That doesn't mean that there's nothing to learn from tonight, however. Given their absence from Tuesday's tune-up, tonight may be our first opportunity to see the newly-minted Eller-Galchenyuk-Semin line in something resembling live competition. Furthermore, the exciting likes of Nikita Scherbak and Charles Hudon may also step into the fray.
With time running out before the starting lineup of 2015-16 cures, Montreal's next three games represent another critical opportunity for prospects on the bubble.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
Tale of the Tape
|49.7||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||51.6|
|1.19||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.09|
*All stats are from the 2014-15 regular season.
Know Your Enemy
Like the Montreal Canadiens, the Washington Capitals are a strong, mature team with just a few holes to fill before opening night. For one player in particular, however, the stakes may be a little higher.
Nicklas Backstrom underwent offseason hip surgery, and his status for October 10 against the New Jersey Devils is unknown. Rather than just place a warm body on the top line, as the Canadiens are doing with the Max Pacioretty vacancy, the Capitals are actively auditioning Evgeny Kuznetsov for the role of special assistant to Alex Ovechkin.
The other hole is on defence, where Mike Green left the capital to sign a hefty deal with the Detroit Red Wings. The Capitals are hoping that his replacement is already within their organization, and with the highly-touted Dmitry Orlov finally set to return from 543 days of injury, the question might just be answered. Nearly two years of downtime is significant for any player, though, and only time will tell if Orlov is still capable of ascending to Zubov status.
Once those two problems are addressed, there are still a slew of other lineup decisions to be made. Fortunately for Barry Trotz and Co., the questions are less of where to find talent and more of how to deploy the considerable skill already at their disposal.
With the Capitals seeking to replace the production of players like Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Curtis Glencross, and Eric Fehr, the Caps are obviously banking on the continued progress of their young guns. For insurance, however, the team has offered a tryout to Derek Roy, now with his sixth NHL team since leaving Buffalo four years ago. With the top six well-stocked, Roy might be best suited as an offensively-minded third line centre on this Washington team. That deployment would conflict with Trotz's historical affinity for a traditional, checking third line though, so how deploys his players this evening may provide insight into how he intends to solve this puzzle.
If the Capitals are to achieve the type of hot start that would help to ensure a playoff position in a hotly contested Metropolitan, they'll need to use their evaluation time wisely tonight.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens and Capitals played in a potential playoff preview last time out, with the 2014-15 regular season drawing to a close and playoff seeding still to be determined. Carey Price had an off night, but the team in front of him gave one of their more organized efforts of the season, and preserved a high-scoring tie through 60 minutes. In the end, however, after a dominant performance by Ovechkin and the Caps' powerplay put four goals past Price in regulation, Brouwer added one more for the shootout winner.
That playoff matchup never materialized, but the Habs' performance marked an important benchmark nonetheless. It showed that, after a stretch of play in which they hemorrhaged shots at a Sabres-like pace, they were capable of playing a 200 foot game.
Regardless of what happens this evening, it's still only preseason hockey. But for a team whose fans are desperately hoping to see their squad's championship window taken seriously this season, another strong effort against Washington would be well received.