The Montreal Canadiens started the Western portion of their road trip off strong with back-to-back wins against the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames before falling hard to the Edmonton Oilers just before the break. In their first game back they were handed a 3-1 defeat by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Now 2-3 since their last game at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens continue on with their road trip to face the top team, not just in their division but the entire league: the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The lone scorer against Carolina on Wednesday night was Alex Galchenyuk, who is now tied for the team scoring lead (21 points) with Phillip Danault. That’s great for him, but there is an issue when the leading point total 37 games into the season is just 21.
The Canadiens are having a rough go of it this year, barely hanging on by the skin of their teeth and falling deeper out of playoff contention. With a 16-17-4 record, they’re trailing by eight points for the second wild-card spot and nine behind Boston and Toronto for one of the three places reserved for Atlantic teams.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Lightning region: SUN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter Live, NHL.tv
Tale of the Tape
The Lightning are leading the league with 54 points in 35 games — their best start in franchise history — and don’t seem to be slowing down. Prior to the Christmas break they had two straight wins, first a shootout victory against the Senators before shutting out the Wild.
This will be the first of four meetings for these two teams. Tampa is currently riding a seven-game home winning streak, a pose a major obstacle for a flu-ridden Montreal team that wasn’t exactly among the top clubs when healthy.
Nikita Kucherov is leading the league in both goals (24) and points (51), and should now be considered among the elite players in the league. Steven Stamkos is not far behind with 45 points, though he’s taken on more of a playmaking role, with just 13 of those being goals. The Lightning have 10 players with at least the 21 points that stand as the peak of production for Canadiens skaters.
At the opposite end, Andrei Vasilevskiy is doing his part to keep pucks out the net, ranking either first or second in all of the goaltending categories. He’s allowing just over two goals per game while holding a .932 save percentage.
He will go up against Carey Price, who gets a second straight start after playing last night. The Habs are hoping he can keep the Lightning offence at a minimum and give the visitors a chance to come away with a win they desperately need.