Don’t look now, but the Montreal Canadiens are steadily climbing toward a playoff position, and tonight will play the next foe on what seemed an impossible list of teams to leapfrog just a few days ago.
It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Canadiens thus far, and while certainly their situation is the envy of no one (except possibly the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes), the Habs are far from done and dusted after important wins in the past week against the Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, and most recently the Ottawa Senators.
With last night’s win, the Atlantic Division sits wide open as the Canadiens visit the Little Caesars Arena for the first time. The surprising Detroit Red Wings are currently ahead of the Canadiens only due to games played, with both teams sitting on 25 points. While that total can be regarded as disappointing for the Canadiens, it’s something no one expected from an older Red Wings squad widely considered to be on the decline. That said, the Wings are currently on a five-game losing streak and have only accumulated a total of 10 points in their last 10 games.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
Elsewhere: FS-D, NHL.tv/NHL GameCentre Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|0.76||5v5 goal ratio||0.90|
For Detroit, the youth revolution appears to be in full swing. As veterans Henrik Zetterberg (4G, 11A) and Gustav Nyquist (5G, 6A) get off to slow starts, Dylan Larkin (4G, 17A) and Anthony Mantha (11G, 9A) have stepped up. Mike Green (2G, 16A) is already half way to equaling last year’s production, and Jimmy Howard has firmly entrenched himself in the crease after losing the job to Petr Mrazek two seasons ago.
To be expected from a team in transition, the Wings biggest Achilles’ heel is their depth. The team is not particularly strong beyond the likes of Larkin, Mantha, and Justin Abdelkader, and is relying on Danny DeKeyser to partner Green on the first defensive pairing.
Detroit’s five-on-five play has been nothing to write home about (49.4% score-and venue-adjusted Corsi), but the Warriors of the Winged Wheel have been propped up by above-average special teams. In particular, the power play has been humming along at a 21.8% clip, good for eighth in the NHL.
The Canadiens are a sharp contrast to this Detroit squad. Against the top-heavy Red Wings, the Canadiens will field a team with solid depth but lacking thus far in elite production. Against a 22% power play, the Habs trot out a penalty kill that has let the team down again and again so far this season.
After three consecutive games for Carey Price, Antti Niemi may get the nod in the latter half of a back-to-back. The Finnish reconstruction project will be looking to build on an unexpectedly solid performance last time out in Nashville.
For Detroit, Jimmy Howard will likely man the net. The fact that the Syracuse-native only has eight wins in 20 starts despite a .921 save percentage indicates that this is a winnable game for the Montreal Canadiens.