Since a lacklustre effort a week ago that had some reporters wondering if the Habs had given up on the season, the Montreal Canadiens have responded with three good outings. After a win over the Washington Capitals, hanging in with the red-hot Boston Bruins the next night, and most recently a convincing effort to snap the Colorado Avalanche’s 10-game winning streak, the Habs now welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to town for the final game before the league breaks for All-Star Weekend.
The decision to move Paul Byron to centre five games ago has worked out well for Montreal, with the surprise choice to take over the setup role on Max Pacioretty’s line recording at least one point in each of those games, getting an assist on a power-play goal versus the Avalanche.
That particular play was started by Jonathan Drouin and finished by Alex Galchenyuk, and those two players have been working well together in clearly defined roles of passer and shooter. They have both hit the scoresheet on the same goal on five occasions in the month of January, doing so twice on Tuesday. Drouin has an assist on all three power-play goals Galchenyuk has scored in 2018.
Both of those duos will be fun to watch as the Habs face a Hurricanes team in the bottom third of the league in both goals against and penalty-killing efficiency, giving the Habs a good chance to get a second consecutive victory.
How to watch
Puck drop: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Hurricanes region: FS-SE
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL GameCentre Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
At the end of December, things were looking good for Carolina, ahead of both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division standings and just outside of a wild-card spot. With just three wins in the month of January, they now sit last in the division, three points back of the next team in the chase for a playoff berth.
Goaltending has been an issue for the team in that time, allowing at least four goals in six of 10 games in the calendar year. The issues have affected both Scott Darling and Cam Ward with neither able to step up and carry the club when it needed a netminder most.
The offence hasn’t been able to compensate, as the team has been held to just a single goal in three of their last four games. Oddly enough, their power play is the hottest it’s been all season long, averaging a goal per game in the 10 games played in January, and is responsible for six of their last nine goals.
The loss of forward Sebastian Aho has had a negative impact on their offence. He still leads the team in points despite missing the last few games with a concussion and lower-body injury, both sustained on the same hit from Mark Giordano on January 14.
On the back end, it’s been an off year for Justin Faulk, with just four goals after posting at least 15 in each of the previous three seasons. Noah Hanifin has been the top offensive threat from the blue line, leading all defencemen on the team in both goals and assists.
Tonight’s game is Carolina’s last on the road before an eight-game homestand. They will be hoping to build up a bit of confidence for what will be a critical stretch of their season, and the Habs, who will also head to Raleigh near the beginning of that period, have a chance to play the spoiler.