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Canadiens @ Avalanche: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

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The Habs will look to rebound from a lethargic performance against the Bruins in the first game of a six-game road swing.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens @ Colorado Avalanche

How to watch

Start time: 8:30 PM EST / 5:30 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360 (English), RDS (French)
In the Avalanche region: Altitude
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live

After spirited performances against the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators, the Habs laid a complete egg at the skates of the Boston Bruins in their final home game of 2018. A bad start was made worse by an inability to pass, shoot, and generally do the hockey things that good hockey teams do.

In what must be a positive harbinger, Carey Price managed to hold the team within striking distance for over half of the game, but offensive ineptitude on the part of the Tricolore and Bruins goals on either side of the second intermission would ice the game for the Beantowners and Jaroslav Halak.

Despite the very positive 6-3-0 start to the month for a team that has historically struggled (29-31-6 in December since the lockout) in the final month of the year, this month has also exposed several glaring flaws in the Habs’ game. The “power” play is not only lethargic, but coaches and players alike seem to be unclear on how to improve it. The penalty kill, after a strong start to the year, has gradually declined over time, currently ranking in the mid-20s league-wide. Finally, as the Boston game amply demonstrated, when the Canadiens, for whatever reason, put in anything less than a full effort, the result is very visible both on and off the ice.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Avalanche
Canadiens Statistic Avalanche
17-12-5 Record 18-10-6
1-1-0 H2H Record (17-18) 1-1-0
54.2% (4th) Corsi-for pct. 49.2% (21st)
3.12 (13th) Goals per game 3.59 (4th)
3.26 (23rd) Goals against per game 3.09 (17th)
12.0% (30th) PP% 29.4% (3rd)
76.4% (24th) PK% 77.2% (23rd)
W∙L∙W∙W∙L Form L∙L∙OT∙W∙L

In their last stretch of games before the holiday season, the Canadiens fly into Denver to face a Colorado Avalanche team determined to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. The Avalanche have been struggling of late, dropping four of their last five games while allowing a combined 25 goals against. Nonetheless, the team still sits third in the Central Division, only four points adrift of the twin powerhouses of Nashville and Winnipeg.

It’s impossible to talk about the Avalanche without focusing extensively on the best line in the NHL: Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. MacKinnon’s talent has been a well-established fact league-wide, but the 23-year-old Nova Scotia native has come of age in the last two seasons after being paired with Rantanen. Both players posted point-per-game-plus seasons in 2017-18, and the duo are first and second in the NHL in scoring (Rantanen with 56 points, MacKinnon with 53). In fact, Rantanen’s 41 assists exceeds the number of total points accumulated by any member of the Canadiens so far this season, with MacKinnon’s 32 assists only one behind Max Domi’s team-leading 33 points.

The Avalanche, however, are undoubtedly a top-heavy team, as after the big three, the team’s next-highest scorer is defenceman Tyson Barrie (24 points) and only one player has posted double-digit goals (Carl Soderberg, 10). This actually gives the Avalanche and Canadiens the same number of 10+ goal scorers (four each), and the Habs lead in 20-point scorers with six to the Avs’ five.

Between the pipes, new acquisition Philipp Grubauer has failed to impress since his arrival from the Washington Capitals, finding himself in a familiar position as the backup to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov started the year red-hot, posting a .950 save percentage in October, but his play regressed during November (.905) and has been awful in December (.868 save percentage, 4.24 GAA). Varlamov’s struggles are vital to his team’s recent lack of success, as his performance during the nine starts that the Avs have lost (.861, 4.23) has been night-and-day compared to the 11 starts in which the Avs emerged victorious (.942, 1.82).

If the Habs are going to take down the Avalanche, they’ll have to keep the top line in check while getting to Grubauer, who gets the start tonight, early and often. How they respond out of the gate will likely determine how the game goes, as not only will it serve as an indicator of their energy levels following the Boston defeat, but the effects of altitude will creep in as the game progresses.

With emotional road games against Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty (depending on the severity of his injury) waiting in the wings, a poor effort in Denver could quickly spiral into something much worse leading into the Christmas break.