For some time now, the Montreal Canadiens have been a team without purpose, floating between competing visions of fighting for a playoff spot or dropping into better draft position. Their opponent tonight, the Washington Capitals, are the type of overwhelming team that will happily make that decision for them.
The Habs have already lost to Washington twice this year, with both defeats coming within a span of 15 days in December. With the Caps riding a ridiculous 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and holding an 11 point advantage over their closest Presidents Trophy competitor, they don't appear ready to let-up.
The mathematical possibility of the Tricolore playing hockey past mid-April this season is still alive, but the idea is becoming less and less practical. With injuries continuing to mount, and the on-ice product appearing increasingly dishevelled, tonight would be as good a night as any to start looking to the future.
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
|52.6||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||51.9|
|0.97||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.42|
Know Your Enemy
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When the Canadiens and Capitals met in early December, we billed it as a match-up with implications on the Eastern Conference hierarchy for this season. Two months later, those comments are as painful as they are ironic.
Now the "monumental collapse," cited previously as the only possible downfall of slumping but still successful Canadiens squad, has come to fruition, the two teams' fortunes couldn't look more different. The Capitals are almost perfectly healthy, and firing on all cylinders as the playoffs loom on the horizon.
The Caps' offence is ridiculous, tied with the Dallas Stars for the league lead at 194 all situations goals for as of Wednesday morning. The Stars have the slight edge at even strength, but with the Capitals vaunted powerplay still going strong, their lethal special teams even the gap.
The Capitals seem to have an offensive balance on their roster that eluded them in previous campaigns. Justin Williams has made a perfect first-line foil for Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov has blossomed in the playmaker's role. Distributing to the two veteran scorers has paid dividends for Kuznetsov, allowing him to amass the league's third-highest assist total.
The chemistry on the top line leaves Ovi's historical running mate, Nicklas Backstrom, to centre Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie, creating a second dangerous scoring line.
And of course, there's Braden Holtby's Vezina-type season, the cherry on top of the avalanche of goals.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens took their usual path to a two-goal deficit: they watched their opponent get on the board with an nice skill play, and then double their lead with a softie.
Kuznetsov opened the scoring, sneaking out from behind the Montreal net as Nate Schmidt unloaded from the blue line. Kuznetsov got his stick in perfect position, redirecting the puck into the cage from just outside of Condon's pad. All of this could have been avoided with adequate puck support in the defensive zone, as it was a Jeff Petry turnover that started Washington's possession. Petry won the race back into his own zone, but with no back-up, was left to shovel the puck to no one. Marcus Johansson took over from there, feeding Schmidt and leading directly to the goal.
The next one was uglier. Fourth-liner Tom Wilson barrelled down the right wing, and dropped a pass for Jay Beagle. Beagle collected the puck, and launched a wrist shot at Condon from way outside. The puck eluded the Habs' keeper, and put Montreal in a 2-0 hole.
Daniel Carr would get the Habs halfway back, banging in a rebound to make it 2-1. But when Jason Chimera manufactured a partial break, it was all over. Schmidt banked the puck off the boards, sending it softly toward the Montreal blue-line, and setting up a race between Chimera and Alexei Emelin. Predictably, Chimera blitzed #74, and roofed the insurance marker past Condon.
Anything can happen, but given the current state of the team, it's hard to imagine tonight's outcome being much different than the last two. For an organization in an increasing state of disarray, that might just be the best thing right now.