With the all-star break and the team’s bye week each on the horizon, the Habs have a lot of games to pack in. Accordingly, they’ll start a mini-Western swing in Winnipeg this evening as the second of four games to be played this week.
The Habs have relied on their depth a tonne of late, and even notwithstanding the handful of injured players who seem to be getting closer to a return, that reliance is going to have to continue if the Tricolore are to be successful in the eight games they’ll play during the current fortnight.
Tonight, they’ll look to match up against a team that’s beginning to see their own depth tested.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet (English),
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|53.09||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.43|
|1.49||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.86|
Teams that have played the Habs recently have been fortunate. The trade off in value between a top injured forward like Alex Galchenyuk and his replacement at the bottom of the roster (Bobby Farnham, for example, positional considerations aside) is remarkable. With Patrik Laine sidelined, the Winnipeg Jets are now dealing with a similar situation.
The dangerous duo on Winnipeg’s top line, of Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, isn’t quite as imposing when their running mate Laine is swapped out for Drew Stafford. Stafford has a solid track record - he was once a 30-goal-scorer and has hit 20 three other times, including last season - but isn’t the player he once was. Paul Maurice and his staff may eventually decide that a player like Joel Armia is a better fit in that role, but assuming a change does not come tonight, there’s a glimmer of hope that the Habs can benefit in some small way from an otherwise dangerous pair of players being subjected to a less than optimal lineup configuration.
The other key matchup among the Jets’ forwards is Bryan Little’s line, where he centres captain Blake Wheeler and Mathieu Perreault. If Scheifele and Ehlers aren’t providing the offence, this line is more than capable. In contrast, the third line (Shawn Matthias - Adam Lowry - Armia) should hold its own, but isn’t likely to be an offensive threat.
That brings us to the fourth line, where the effects of Laine’s absence may be felt most. The Finnish rookie’s injury puts veteran Chris Thorburn back into the lineup, and so far, young centre Nic Petan just hasn’t been able to drag Thorburn along well enough to salvage the line’s performance. Thorburn will likely see only five or six minutes of ice, but five minutes of grinder instead of 18 minutes of rookie scoring sensation is a pretty good trade-off for Montreal.
The Jets’ special teams are mostly poor, and the goaltending is average at best. Connor Hellebuyck is the team’s goalie of the future and probably also his team’s best option right now. Despite his shutout on Monday though, his results this year are still middling. It may be a truism on most nights, but if the Jets are to succeed this evening, it’ll almost certainly be on the merits of their top three forward lines and top two defensive pairs. That extra help that good teams can rely on, be it in the form of a hot goalie, effective powerplay, or momentum-swinging fourth line performance, just hasn’t been there often enough to count on this year.
That puts all the more pressure on a team trying to succeed without its leading goal-scorer. For the Habs, it’s an opportunity to leverage their depth toward another win in the Central division.