When the Habs played the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night, they didn’t bring their ‘A’ game. The visitors were allowed to control the flow of play and prevent Montreal from sustaining much time in the offensive zone.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Tricolore used superlative goaltending and a couple of pretty goals in transition to put Vancouver away, earning their eighteenth and nineteenth points of the season.
Tonight, the Habs face another team over which their talent advantage is pretty significant.
How to Watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT
In the Canadiens region: SNE (English), RDS (French)
In the Blue Jackets region: FS-O
Elsewhere: NHL Center Ice, NHL GameCenter
Off to a 4-3-1 start, the Blue Jackets enter tonight’s game near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Their losses have come against stiff competition, however: two of the regulation losses were at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, while the Blue Jackets also took the Kings to an extra frame but couldn’t get the extra point.
Like Montreal, John Tortorella’s team relies pretty heavily on their goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky has more than held up his end of the bargain, turning way just under 94% of the shots he’s faced at even strength so far. That success has translated to the penalty kill as well, where the Blue Jackets come in one slot behind Montreal at fourth place in the league rankings (88.9%).
But where the Blue Jackets’ production has been especially efficient so far is on the powerplay. The Habs and Jackets have the same number of powerplay goals, with seven, but Columbus (20) has managed their goal total on fewer than half of the opportunities Montreal has received (42). If the Ohioan franchise can maintain some semblance of that level of output as their very small sample size begins to grow, it may give them a chance to make up for the offence not being generated at even strength.
The Jackets are doing a respectable job of generating shots, and their 55 shot attempts per game at even strength puts them just ahead of league average in that regard. What they aren’t doing is converting, leaving their GF/60 just out of the NHL’s bottom-five. Players like captain Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg, and Brandon Saad have carried the load offensively, not to the mention current point-per-game 19-year-old defenceman Zach Werenski. But if players like Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, and Matt Calvert (1 goal between them) can’t begin to contribute, the fate of Bobrovsky’s team will likely be out of his hands.
January’s back-to-back 5-2 losses to the Blue Jackets were the spiritual death of the 2015-16 Habs, even if they were forced to march on for another 32 games before their season came to a merciful end.
This season’s team has already done most everything in its power to prove that it’s different from the squad that preceded it, but tonight’s game is another chance to step in the right direction. If the Habs can keep racking up points while they’re available, they’ll be ahead of the game when December brings the tougher opponents.