The 2015-16 season of the Montreal Canadiens can be divided, more or less, into three distinct parts.
There's the nine-game winning streak to start the year, during which the Canadiens were peerless. Their offseason plans manifested themselves perfectly on the ice, and the Canadiens' Stanley Cup candidacy looked to be finally coming to maturity.
That streak began with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the Habs marched into the Air Canada Centre on opening night and came away with two points. The Maple Leafs also found themselves the capstone of that streak, becoming Montreal's ninth and final win before they finally fell to the Vancouver Canucks.
That loss to the Canucks was the landmark designating act two of the season, when the Habs' streak was over but the wins came often nonetheless.
Then, the Canadiens entered a third era; one so painful and enduring that it overshadows all that was positive at the beginning of the season. It's long past time for that era to come to an end.
The Canadiens have enjoyed four days off since falling to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night, and with their schedule begging them to take advantage, the Habs need to get a win tonight. With four games in 15 days, including matches with two of the Eastern Conference's poorer teams, it won't get any easier than this.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVAS
In Canada (English): CBC
In the United States: NHLN-US
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|53.4||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||53.3|
|1.00||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.89|
Know Your Enemy
The Toronto Maple Leafs do a lot of things right. Their possession numbers are solid considering their talent deficit, and while the conversion isn't there so far, the Leafs are one of the league's shot generators and suppressors on the powerplay and penalty kill, respectively. Throw in James Reimer as one of the league's most successful goaltenders this season, and you have the foundation of a team with designs on contention.
Until they can get some weapons, however, the Leafs are likely destined to remain right where they are: the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs produce more high-danger scoring chances on the powerplay than any other team, but their inability to convert leaves them looking like a middling group overall. To make matters worse, the absence of James van Riemsdyk further deprives an offence starving for finish.
On the back-end, the story is similar. Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner get easier minutes, but aren't able to fully realize the offensive potential of that choice ice-time. To make that deployment possible, Matt Hunwick and Morgan Rielly take on the tougher minutes. Rielly is on a star track, but he's not quite there yet. Accordingly, he and his partner lag behind on possession. That leaves Roman Polak and Martin Marincin, who tread water as the third pair.
All of this is to say that the opportunity is there for Montreal. If Mike Condon continues his recent trend of solid play, and the Canadiens' top line can continue to generate offence, that should be enough. If the rejigged middle six can prove their offensive worth, the Habs' chances get even better.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens got offence from their big guns and lesser offensive lights to start their last game against Toronto, and it set the stage for a victory. P.K. Subban unleashed a hail of pucks in the first period back in October, and when one trickled over the line behind Jonathan Bernier, he was finally rewarded. Lars Eller would increase the lead in the second, banging home an Alex Galchenyuk rebound.
Leo Komarov looked to make things interesting, drawing his team within one, but David Desharnais restored the Habs' lead just as quickly.
From there, the Canadiens did everything they could to lose. Allowing the Leafs to win puck battles left and right, they finally cracked when an Alexander Semin turnover set the tone for a shift of terrible execution. Eventually, it was one failure to clear the zone too many, and JVR cashed a Phaneuf rebound to put his team back within one.
But, as we all remember fondly, those were simpler times, and the Tricolore were not to be denied. Max Pacioretty spoiled a Toronto powerplay with a shorthanded laser through Bernier, and Brendan Gallagher iced it when he converted a P.K. Subban slap pass into a three-goal lead for his squad.
Just as the first game of the year set the stage for a historic winning streak, the Habs' uninspired effort in their second clash with the Maple Leafs hinted that first loss was coming. Tonight, the Canadiens will look to use a win over the Leafs to draw another dividing line in their record of the season.