How to watch
Puck drop: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Golden Knights region: AT&T-Rocky Mountain
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
When the Canadiens came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the New York Islanders on Monday, Habs fans were on cloud nine. When they blew a 3-1 lead in losing to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, Habs fans were cautiously optimistic, as they could cite fatigue as an explanation. When the Canadiens dropped a back-and-forth 6-5 decision to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday in a game that featured defenders but very little defending, a “power” play that was powerful in name only, and a Rasmus Ristolainen game-winning goal on Carey Price via an unscreened slapshot from the circle, you could see smoke begin to come out of the ears of the Montreal faithful.
Well, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the visiting Vegas Golden Knights have just the man to set the whole thing ablaze.
Tale of the Tape
|1-1-0||H2H Record (17-18)||1-1-0|
|53.1% (5th)||Corsi-for pct.||58.8% (2nd)|
|51 (9th)||Goals for||38 (29th)|
|51 (24th)||Goals against||44 (13th)|
|14.1% (27th)||PP%||15.1% (24th)|
|84.2% (5th)||PK%||83.3% (8th)|
When Max Pacioretty was traded to the Golden Knights on September 10, 2018, the expectation was that the Knights had received the best player in the deal, someone who could make an immediate impact and take them over the top, while the Habs acquired the potential of Nick Suzuki and a restoration project in Tomas Tatar.
Fast forward two months, and Tatar, with 14 points in 16 games, has cemented his position in Pacioretty’s old place to the left of Phillip Danault. Meanwhile, Pacioretty, despite enjoying the scorching heat of the Nevada desert, has been as cold as the Montreal winters that he left behind, notching two goals and zero assists in 12 games.
Pacioretty’s slump to start the season has been representative of Vegas’s play as a team. Despite hopes and expectations being sky-high after last year’s unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Golden Knights dropped four of their first five games and stumbled to an 5-6-1 October record. November has been likewise average at best, with victories over the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators preceded by defeats to the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Much of the blame for Vegas’s woes can be laid at the feet of inconsistent goaltending. After posting a .927 save percentage last season, Marc-Andre Fleury is back to his old self, putting up a .901 thus far in 14 starts. Their scoring is also down dramatically, with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson being the only players with double-digit point tallies. That said, lest anyone think that the carriage has turned back into a pumpkin, Vegas has both the talent and the underlying numbers to turn their season around, ranking first in the league in 5-on-5 scoring-chance percentage and fourth in high-danger-scoring-chance percentage.
As one team struggles to gain a foothold to climb out of an early season hole, another is threatening to slip and fall after a promising start. The heady days of October have given way to a nervous November, as the Habs have been treading water prior to the Buffalo defeat, which marked the first time they had lost successive matches all year.
More troubling is that some of the hallmarks of last year are starting to make themselves visible again. The power play is impotent and rudderless, failing to convert on two relatively lengthy 5-on-3 sequences against the Sabres. The defensive coverage has been atrocious, with opposition passes going unimpeded and players being unmarked. Finally, while he hasn’t had much help from his friends, Carey Price has not been the Carey Price of old, or even the Carey Price of October — which is why he’ll sit this one out in favour of Antti Niemi, according to Claude Julien.
The Habs have started their 2018-19 season exceeding everyone’s wildest expectations. But as Montrealers certainly already know, a hot start doesn’t mean anything if it’s squandered in November, December, and January. On Saturday night, a team nervously trying to stay the course faces one struggling to reach the lofty goals set for them at year’s start. And an old face will try to prove that the decision to send him away was the wrong one.