The Montreal Canadiens will visit the Los Angeles Kings tonight at the Staples Centre as they wrap up their always-testing tour of California. Playing their second game in as many nights, the Habs will not have much time to prepare, but will need to be at the top of their game in order to keep up with one of the Stanley Cup favourites.
Tonight's match-up represents one between teams moving in opposite directions. One need only look to the trade deadline to see evidence of that, as the Canadiens sent away free agents in Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, while the Kings added to their roster with Kris Versteeg joining the lineup for the playoff push.
The road-trip couldn't really have come at a worse time for those among us who are still holding out hope that the team could find their way into the playoffs. Facing off with three of the most dangerous teams in the league on the road is a recipe for disaster for a team who simply hasn't been able to find their footing, and the Kings may prove the stiffest challenge so far.
Ben Scrivens may get the start in net against his former team as Mike Condon played last night against the Ducks. We have seen Scrivens shine against former teams before, with his best performance of the season coming against the Edmonton Oilers not all that long ago. Should the Habs hope to score two points in this game, more of the same will probably be necessary.
How to Watch
Start time: 10:30 PM ET
In Canada (French): RDS
In Canada (English): Sportsnet East
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|56.7||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||52.5|
|0.96||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.07|
*Stats as of March 2nd
Know Your Enemy
After a disappointing 2014-15 season that saw the team miss the playoffs, the Kings have stormed back this year with a very impressing showing thus far. Sitting atop the competitive Pacific division, Los Angeles is a team built for success - and, coincidentally, one that has had no trouble finding it.
Leading the team offensively, to nobody's surprise, is Anze Kopitar with 53 points on the season already. Perhaps even more noteworthy is Tyler Toffoli, who is having a terrific follow-up campaign to the breakout season he had last year - putting up 45 points thus far, while dominating possession with an immaculate 58.73 CF% at even strength.
Defensively, of course, the Kings' biggest weapon is Drew Doughty, who was one of four blue-liners named to Team Canada's World Cup roster yesterday. Doughty is having another great season that should see him considered for a position as a Norris Trophy finalist, leading all defensemen on the Kings with 40 points in 62 games. Los Angeles has also recently added Rob Scuderi back to the fold, a player with whom they've had success in the past - though age is quickly becoming a factor in his case.
The Kings are the best possession team in the league this season - and it's not even close. Their 56.3 CF% as a team is by far tops in the NHL, the next best being the Dallas Stars at 53.5%. With a number of big injuries on defense, and tired legs from playing the night before, the Canadiens will likely struggle to keep up with what has been a very aggressive Kings' attack.
Last Time Out
Perhaps luckily, the NHL schedule means the Canadiens don't get to see much action against western conference opponents; tonight being the second of just two meetings with the Kings all season. The last meeting came in mid-December, a time when the team suddenly stopped winning as many games, though none of us could then have predicted the skid would become a collapse.
The Habs actually came out guns-blazing in the first period, throwing everything they had at Quick in an effort to go up early in the contest. The Kings' netminder, however, stood strong and turned aside all 18 shots he faced in the opening frame to keep the game scoreless.
That failure to convert on a plethora of chances would come back to bite the Canadiens in the second period as Doughty broke the deadlock a little over halfway through the game. Unloading a cannon of a shot from the blue-line, Doughty was able to fool Mike Condon and find the back of the net.
Doughty helped his team strike again just minutes later as he found Kopitar with a cross-ice pass, and the Slovenian-national would have no trouble depositing the puck in the near-empty-net to put his team up by two.
Despite heavily outshooting the Kings over the course of the game, the Habs simply had no answer for Jonathan Quick, who looked every bit the Conn Smythe-winning goaltender he has been in the past. Gaborik would seal the deal with an empty net goal in the third, dealing the Habs their second loss of what would ultimately turn out to be a six-game losing stretch.
In order to get a different result tonight, the Canadiens will need to do something they've had great difficulty doing lately, and that's converting on their scoring chances. A number of injuries on the blue-line and a shallow line-up of forwards following the trade deadline make it clear that the Habs are heavy underdogs in this game, and overcoming the Kings tonight would frankly take a herculean effort. As they say though - any given Sunday.