How to watch
Through the first two games of the season, Habs fans have witnessed from afar a club reborn from the ashes of last season; a team playing fearless hockey emphasizing speed and aggression. Tonight, a week into the new season, the Montreal faithful will finally have their first chance in person to greet their new club, as the Canadiens face off against the Los Angeles Kings in the home opener.
Tale of the Tape
|0-2-0||H2H Record (17-18)||2-0-0|
Last season, the Kings finished fourth in the Pacific Division and were quickly swept out of the playoffs by the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, resulting in more than a few questions about whether their time in the sun had passed by. In search of more offence, the Kings committed to Ilya Kovalchuk in the off-season, luring the 35-year-old away from SKA Saint Petersburg with a three-year/$6.25 million dollar AAV contract.
Outside of Kovalchuk, the roster is more or less the same. Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty, lead the Kings in attack and defence, respectively, and the Kings will rely on them heavily once again this year. Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and relative newcomers Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe make up the supporting cast on offence, while Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Derek Forbort are Doughty’s chief lieutenants on the blue line.
The Kings have struggled somewhat to start the season, enjoying only a single victory — a 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings — sandwiched between a 3-2 overtime loss against the San Jose Sharks and a 2-1 regulation defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. Surprisingly, a team that has been renowned for tight checking and solid defence has allowed an average of 36.7 shots on goal per game in those three affairs, placing them 28th in the league and well above last season’s mark of 30.9.
To make matters worse, Jonathan Quick sustained a lower-body injury on Saturday in practice and has since been placed on Injured Reserve, meaning that the Canadiens will face either Jack Campbell or old friend Peter Budaj between the pipes. Dustin Brown is also out to begin the year, having suffered a broken finger in the Kings’ final pre-season game.
Los Angeles presents a different challenge than the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins in terms of playstyle and deployment. While the first two opponents favoured speed and transition attack, tonight’s prefers a more deliberate, physical, possession-based, cycle-oriented game. The Leafs and Penguins could spread their offensive talent across two or even three different lines, but the Kings have been largely led by their top line of Iafallo-Kopitar-Kovalchuk (indeed, apart from this trio, Toffoli is the only player with multiple points so far this year).
The Habs will look to continue their early-season momentum, and will hopefully be able to feed off the pre-game ceremonies and the home crowd right from puck drop. As for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, his first NHL home game and his first NHL game with family in the crowd should be more than enough motivation for a young Finn who has passed every test thrown at him thus far.