The Montreal Canadiens, in the midst of their 82-game grind, enjoyed a rare four consecutive days off this week. When the puck drops for their game against the Chicago Blackhawks, we'll find out if that was enough time for the Habs to learn from their mistakes.
The tricolore played right into the hands of the skilled Pittsbiurgh Penguins in their last outing, relinquishing the puck without a second thought and allowing the Pens' attackers to come at them in waves. The strategy is a poor one on a good day, but with the Habs still missing some key pieces on defence, they were unable to hold the fort.
Even if Jeff Petry becomes available for this evening's game, the Habs still best chance for success will be to better insulate Mike Condon. Facing the NHL's most dangerous scorer, the inimitable Patrick Kane, there will be few second chances.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Blackhawks region: CSN-CH
In the United States: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|53.4||Score-Adjusted CF %||52.5|
|1.07||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.97|
Know Your Enemy
With 62 points in 44 games, Kane is scoring at a level that most Canadiens players can scarcely dream of. With Calder Trophy candidate Artemi Panarin riding shotgun, and off-season acquisition Artem Anisimov completing the trio, the Blackhawks have had the luxury of icing a ready-made, top-producing offensive line all season long. The group presents a significant challenge for Montreal, and one that becomes even greater when one considers Michel Therrien's aversion to line-matching. Much like we saw on Saturday night, any significant exposure to this line could be lethal for any pair that doesn't include P.K. Subban.
Thankfully, beyond the contributions of Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks haven't enjoyed a great deal of depth scoring. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith each find themselves among the league's highest-scoring defenders, but the team ranks below even the goal-starved Habs in even strength output. The Blackhawks' power play will put the Habs to the test, however, led by league-leading powerplay scorer Kane.
Of course, there's one other player who is integral to the Blackhawks' run-and-gun style: Corey Crawford. While his numbers are not quite elite, he's firmly in the second tier of keepers. The 'Hawks are one of the NHL's strongest possession teams in terms of the percentage of shot attempts they control, but much of that achievement comes on the strength of their shot-generating capabilities. More often than not, Crawford shuts the door when the puck comes back down the ice, giving Chicago the confidence to push the play with impunity.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens didn't have to worry about Crawford last December, and managed three goals. Sadly, three goals was not enough to overpower their dangerous opponents.
Michal Roszival put the Habs down early, converting a cross-ice pass only minutes into the game. The next Chicago goal was the culmination of several chances against the suspect defensive pair of Alexei Emelin and Sergei Gonchar, with Ben Smith blowing past the younger Russian defender before depositing a wrist shot.
Alex Galchenyuk pulled the Habs back just seconds later, feeding Brendan Gallagher in the high slot for a one-timed goal. Then, Gonchar equalized, redeeming his pair by blasting a slapshot from the top of the circle. When P.K. Subban did the same, the Habs were in front.
Toews ensured that wouldn't last. Battling in front of the net on the powerplay, the captain out-maneuvered Mike Weaver and scored his team's third goal. The contest looked destined for overtime, but a heart-wrenching Andrei Markov flub quashed those dreams. Brandon Saad was the beneficiary, scoring the game-winner from the slot with 27 seconds to go.
Allowing four goals tonight would be a likely death sentence, but if the Habs continue to struggle to produce goals of their own, it won't matter how stingy Condon is. The Canadiens have had five days to regroup after a poor performance against Pittsburgh. Tonight, we'll find out if they can keep up with one of the league's toughest outfits.