Putting their six-game win streak on the line, the Montreal Canadiens head to the Scotiabank Saddledome tonight to face off against one of the, ahem, hottest teams in the hockey.
The Flames have won seven in a row and 10 times since the start of February, helping to cement their hold on the Western Conference’s first wildcard position. Of course, the Pacific division’s second and third spots are very much up for the grabs as well, and the prospect of a first round date with the Oilers or Ducks instead of the powerful Sharks should keep Calgary motivated.
The Flames have been a tough match-up for the Habs in the two teams’ most recent meetings, including the 6-2 shellacking the Flames laid on the Canadiens at the beginning of last season. As they did in Vancouver on Tuesday, the Tricolore will seek to avenge last season’s road loss tonight.
How To Watch
Puck drop: 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT
In the Canadiens region: SNE (English), RDS (French)
In the Flames region: SNW
Elsewhere: NHL.tv, NHL Gamecenter
Tale Of The Tape
|52.69||Score-adjusted Corsi %||51.1|
|1.22||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.96|
In contrast to seasons past, the Flames play a pretty solid 5v5 game nowadays. They rank among the league’s top-10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi, and only the Bruins, Kings, Blues, and Capitals allow fewer shot attempts against.
Unfortunately, Calgary’s goaltenders haven’t held up their end of the bargain. Both Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott’s even-strength numbers are hovering around the average or so performance of Canadiens backup Al Montoya, leaving the team’s even-strength save percentage in the NHL’s bottom-10. Of course, what looks like a problem when viewed over the whole season to-date has been much less so during the Flames’ recent tear, so Glen Gulutzan may be able to afford a bit of confidence in Elliott’s ability to neutralize the Carey Price effect to some degree this evening.
For his part, Price will be responsible for shutting down Calgary’s very capable top-six forwards. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are the team’s primary offensive catalysts, and they’ll be accompanied by banger Micheal Ferland on the top line. The second line is also dangerous, as rookie Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik have found a way to score despite a distinct defensive bent to their deployment.
On defence, there’s a clear line drawn between the top half of the corps and the bottom. T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, and Captain Mark Giordano each take on a good deal of in terms of ice-time and responsibility, but the Flames have struggled with Deryk Engelland, Michael Stone, and Matt Bartkowski on the ice. If the Habs’ depth can push those three players, they should earn some scoring chances.
Of course, the offensive capabilities of the Habs’ depth forwards remain a question mark. Dwight King, Steve Ott, and Andreas Martinsen each emerged from Tuesday’s contest with terrible shot differentials, despite a positive performance by their team overall. While none was renowned for his scoring before being acquired, Canadiens management was likely hoping that the premium they placed on experience, grit, and defensive responsibility in their trade deadline dealings would allow for a lineup where Montreal’s depth forwards could at least keep the game on even terms while they’re on the ice. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, but the adjustment period for the newcomers remains in progress. Injuries to Montreal regulars (Tomas Plekanec and Brian Flynn are out, while Alexander Radulov’s status is unclear), in combination with the Habs’ relatively comfortable playoff standing, give Claude Julien plenty of latitude to continue to experiment toward finding out just how well his new additions can keep up.
In six straight wins, the Canadiens have proven that a fluid lineup and new tactical playbook don’t have to be impediments to on-ice success, especially when the goaltending is good. Tonight, they’ll look to continue their run of strong play against an opponent whose been just as successful.