As the Canadiens have worked through the final third of their doomed season, each opponent has brought with them a different cruel reminder.
The Buffalo Sabres can't help but remind the Habs and their fans of the crucial points Montreal gave up to inferior teams earlier in the campaign. Similarly, a second meeting with the Dallas Stars dredged up the memory of the Tricolore failing to keep pace with one of the league's stronger squads.
Tonight's game with the Minnesota Wild harkens back to perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Montreal's slump-turned-death-sentence. Throughout December, the Habs put forth winning efforts, only to be stymied by an untimely goal against a back-up goaltender, or their inability to finish off a crucial scoring play. And whether it was Michel Therrien's roster decisions hampering his team's scoring efforts, or Marc Bergevin's paralysis when it came to making any type of significant move, the Habs never found a way to escape the downward spiral they were trapped in.
When they lost a fifth straight game to the Minnesota Wild just before Christmas, they did so with no significant departure from the lineup or strategy that had lost eight of the preceding nine games. The Habs failed to make a meaningful adjustment when it counted.
Tonight, they'll get a good look at a team that decided to act.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVAS
In Canada (English): Sportsnet
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.2||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.1|
|0.96||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.11|
Know Your Enemy
John Torchetti's results as Minnesota Wild head coach certainly aren't all positive, but his promotion appears to have elicited some signs of life from his squad.
When Mike Yeo, a well-regarded and until this year, successful NHL head coach, led his team to a Canadiens-calibre losing streak, the Wild answered. Since Yeo's February 13 firing, the Wild have gone 8-5, keeping pace in a Western Conference playoff race now down to only nine teams.
With the rest of the pack well ahead, the Wild find themselves neck-and-neck with the Colorado Avalanche for the West's final seed. Behind the Avs by two points, but with a game in-hand, the stakes are high for Minnesota this evening.
If the Wild are going to win tonight, they'll need to find a way to generate some goals. With the Montreal defence in tatters, they may have an easier time than usual.
Last Time Out
The Habs defence held strong last time, with Nathan Beaulieu, Tom Gilbert and Subban all in the lineup. When only Daniel Carr could manage a goal, however, the Habs were stuck with another loss.
Despite early control of the flow of play, the Canadiens found themselves losing early. First, Jason Pominville capitalized on an Alexei Emelin turnover, putting his team up 1-0. Then, after a video review ruled a Montreal goal void, the Wild would double their advantage.
Charlie Coyle scored on a remarkable individual effort, working past Nathan Beaulieu down the left wing before shelving the puck over Mike Condon.
A line of Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller, and Carr did some great work in the Minnesota zone, and it culminated in Montreal's only goal. Accepting the puck while breaking toward the slot, Carr eluded his defender and the Minnesota goalie, sliding the puck under the pad of Darcy Kuemper while moving east-to-west.
The Canadiens frantically pushed for a tying goal, but were denied. Even with the loss, the Habs were still a top-10 team in the NHL at that time. Tonight, they're in a much different position.
The Canadiens' season is essentially over, and with four regular defenders injured, the Habs may be hard-pressed to insulate their inconsistent goaltenders. For the first time in recent memory, they'll also have the challenge of creating an offensive attack with P.K. Subban available to start it.
Alex Galchenyuk's run of success with Max Pacioretty and Sven Andrighetto is a silver lining, and Charles Hudon's call-up bears optimism as well. With 14 games to go, the Canadiens will hope that those promising players can be a ray of light in an otherwise gloomy season.
At the very least, they're counting on their remaining contributors to make sure that the story of tonight's game doesn't come with another stern moral.