For the Canadiens to outperform their woeful points outputs of December and January, it took a February schedule about as soft as it could be. If the Habs want to keep their playoff hopes alive much longer, however, they're going to have to navigate a much tougher course.
With the annual California swing just over a week away, and with only about six losses left to spend if they're to qualify for the playoffs, the Habs can't afford to bomb that stretch like they often do. But if the Habs are going to reach that trip with any type of cushion, they're going to have to beat the Nashville Predators first.
The Predators are in a precarious position as well, looking to use tonight's game to maintain their modest cushion on the Western Conference's other playoff bubble teams.
With time running short for each team, the ramifications of this evening's outcome may loom large.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:30 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.7||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||53.3|
|0.96||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.01|
Know Your Enemy
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The Nashville Predators of 2015-16 have maintained what has been their franchise's identity for some time: defensively stout and offensively stilted.
Seeking to rebalance, they made the NHL's most significant swap of the season, dealing young stud defender Seth Jones for a productive forward, Ryan Johansen, who is just hitting his prime. Johansen has been productive in his new colours, coming within striking distance of a point-per-game, but his team's offensive results at even strength remain stagnant.
Averaging just two goals per game at even strength since Johansen joined their ranks, the same rate as Montreal's uninspiring production in that time, the Predators remain one of the league's lowest-scoring teams. On the powerplay, their production has actually dipped slightly, keeping them in the middle of the pack in that regard.
To summarize, Johansen addition has helped - he's one of his team's most dangerous forwards - but Nashville's production remains so delicately intertwined with Roman Josi and Shea Weber's ability to make plays on the powerplay that their overall offence remains fragile.
If the Canadiens can use one of their most effective units, their penalty kill, to hold the Preds' offence in check, they should have a good chance to keep their opponent's scoring down.
Last Time Out
The Tricolore entered their last clash with the Predators on a similar mission: keep their opponents off the scoreboard. Their failure in that regard was total, carrying their torturous December slump forward for another night.
There was some good news surrounding that game, and it can be summed up briefly:
Galchenyuk gets all his frustration out in this shot pic.twitter.com/fk5MIVELd7— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 22, 2015
The bad news may take a little longer to unravel. With two players no longer with the organization, Jarred Tinordi and Dustin Tokarski, in the lineup, the Canadiens played a strong first period. As is typical, though, they found themselves playing from behind early.
Josi helped his team gain the zone, and with his forwards flooding Tokarski's sight-lines, dropped the puck for Weber. His screened slapper found the back of the net, giving Nashville the lead. Considering that few teams (including Montreal) win less often than Nashville when their opponent scores first, this was an unfortunate development.
The Habs continued to barrage Pekka Rinne through to the middle of the second period, but the Predators would get the game's second goal. Weber returned his partner's favour, feeding Josi on the powerplay to make it a 2-0 game.
Continuing to press, Montreal looked destined to finally break down the stalwart Predators defence. Instead, Craig Smith iced the game; his goal the culmination of an expertly executed 4-on-3 rush. Bell Centre favourite Mike Ribeiro gained the zone, and two cross-ice passes later, it was over.
For a team that often struggles to break two tallies, that five-goal night remains Nashville's fourth-highest output of any game this season. If the Canadiens can't rein in one of the league's least potent offences tonight, their margin for error in the standings will get even slimmer.