As holiday festivities start to wind down for another year its back to business for the Canadiens, who will have little time to readjust to reality.
A back-to-back in the state of Florida may have seemed a more daunting task in October, but its still no easy way to return from a four-day break. Having lost two straight games, the Habs are in need of a win with the rival Senators gaining ground in the Atlantic Division.
Standing in their way this evening will be a battered and bruised Tampa Bay Lightning squad, who will be without captain Steven Stamkos and starting goaltender Ben Bishop, among others.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In Canada: SN360, Sportsnet East (English), RDS (French)
In the United States: SUN
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|53.71||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.40|
|1.56||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.95|
Having made it all the way to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Lightning were penned as favourites in the Atlantic Division this year. Evidently things have not gone as planned in Tampa as the Bolts sit just over .500 and seven points out of a wild card spot.
Injuries have played a significant role in derailing the season for the Lightning - they have a number of players out and listed as day-to-day or longer. Bishop will be out for a few more weeks, while Stamkos remains out indefinitely. More recently the Bolts have lost Braydon Coburn and Jonathan Drouin to undisclosed injuries, while Ryan Callahan has not played since late November.
The Lightning have relied on Nikita Kucherov offensively this season, as the young Russian forward has taken another step forward in his production with 30 points in just 28 games. Kucherov, too, has sat out games due to injury this month but may return in time for tonight’s contest.
Making a strong early case for the Norris Trophy is Victor Hedman; the towering blue-liner is on pace for his best offensive season ever and has been the backbone of the Bolts’ defensive corps. In fact, only Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have more points among defencemen than does Hedman.
On the other hand, both Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat have been producing at career-low rates, which has clearly dealt a blow to the offensive depth in Tampa Bay. Johnson’s production particularly must be of concern after his point totals nosedived last year as well.
Andrei Vasilevsky has stepped into a full-time starter role after the loss of Bishop, and may be making the job his own permanently as he has posted a .918 SV% - better than that of Bishop thus far. The 22-year-old is the more likely choice to be protected from an expansion draft, so it makes sense that the Lightning would make more use of him going forward this season as he has proven himself capable of the minutes.
There has been no love lost between these two teams in recent years, though it remains to be seen how willing they are to engage each other physically in this, their first meeting of the season, given the injuries both have been dealing with.