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Canadiens vs. Panthers: Game Preview, Start Time, and How to Watch

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24 hours after falling to the Lightning, can the Habs take advantage of the other struggling southeastern squad?

NHL: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

When the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers met in mid-November, it seemed like the Panthers got all the bounces.

The Habs generated some grade “A” scoring chances, but Roberto Luongo stood tall. The Canadiens held a vast possession advantage, but allowed the Panthers to capitalize on what little time they spent near Carey Price. And in overtime, Alex Galchenyuk’s broken stick sealed the win for the Cats.

The luck that Florida enjoyed at the Bell Centre was the kind of good fortune that even strong teams need to win every once in a while. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that night was one of just a few occasions this season when the bounces have gone their way.

How to watch

Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST

In the Canadiens region: SNE (English), RDS (French)

In the Panthers region: FS-F

Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic* Panthers
21-9-4 Record 15-14-6
5-3-2 L10 Record 3-3-4
53.71 Score-Adjusted Corsi % 51.68
104 Goals For 85
76 Goals Against 97
1.56 5v5 Goal Ratio 0.76
19.1 PP% 14.9
81.6 PK% 85.6

*Statistics do not include Wednesday night’s games.

The seeds of what’s looking like an ugly season were sown with Jonathan Huberdeau’s preseason injury. Huberdeau remains out, and with mid-February as the targeted return date, the Habs won’t have to worry about him until the two games they’ll play with the Panthers as the regular season winds down. Tonight, Huberdeau will be joined on the injured list by winger Reilly Smith and defenceman Alex Petrovic.

Undaunted at first by Huberdeau’s prognosis, the Panthers won their first two games of the campaign. They did not, however, manage to sustain momentum for more than a game or two at a time. Unsatisfied with their first two months’ results, the front office did some serious shuffling near the end of November.

After Gerard Gallant was pushed out as head coach, it was decided that Tom Rowe would run the bench, Dale Tallon would run the day-to-day hockey ops, and Vincent Viola would run the U.S. Army. To date, however, none of the positive intentions behind those moves have trickled down to the ice.

The Panthers are a top-10 possession team (by score-adjusted Corsi), but are suffering in a few other key areas.

For one, they’ve received some of the worst goaltending in the league. Their combo in the crease includes two successful starters (or former starters, in the case of James Reimer), one of whom is a future hall-of-famer, but neither has played like a number one this season. Reimer in particular has struggled, giving up an extra fifth of a goal per outing compared to the average of the 55 goaltenders who qualify for Hockey Reference’s GSAA statistic. Given that Luongo started against the Maple Leafs last night, there’s a fair chance we’ll see Reimer line up 200 feet from Al Montoya this evening.

Besides the goaltending problem, there’s also the issue with the powerplay. Florida is quite good at generating shots on special teams, but their shooting percentage at 5v4 is in the league’s bottom-five. The result is a meek man advantage that doesn’t do nearly enough to make up for the offence missing at even strength.

Of course, Florida managed three even strength goals against the Habs last time out, and relied on their top forward, Sasha Barkov, for none of them. If the Panthers get some depth offence again, or if Barkov can maintain his point-per-game-plus track record against the Habs, Montreal could be in trouble.

But if Rowe’s skaters can’t muster some run support, they’re going to need some bounces to avoid another December loss.