How to watch
Start time: 4:00 PM EST / 1:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Golden Knights region: ATTSN-RM
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
Starting the road trip off with a decent performance in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche and Carey Price working hard for his 300th win the next night, the Montreal Canadiens now have a chance to finish off the first leg of the year-end road trip with a winning record.
Doing so would mean a sweep of the season series versus last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up. The Canadiens hosted the NHL’s newest club when it looked like the franchise was doomed to a sophomore slump, having just five regulation wins by the game on November 10, and a 7-9-1 record.
It was Max Pacioretty’s return to the Bell Centre after being traded away just before the season began. The former captain had plenty of chances to get a goal versus his old team — he put nine shots on goal, by far the most in any game this season — but the only pucks he saw enter the net were behind his own netminder, finishing with a -2 mark in a 5-4 defeat.
Pacioretty watched as the NHL player he was traded for made the biggest impact on the scoreboard. Tomas Tatar netted the eventual game-winning goal 12 minutes into the third; the final of four lead changes in an entertaining contest.
Tale of the Tape
|54.3% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||54.7% (3rd)|
|3.03 (13th)||Goals per game||2.97 (17th)|
|3.17 (22nd)||Goals against per game||2.78 (7th)|
|12.9% (29th)||PP%||21.4% (13th)|
|77.1% (24th)||PK%||83.5% (5th)|
It turns out that was Pacioretty’s only chance to score against his former team this year (in the regular season at least...), as he has been ruled out of this afternoon’s game with an injury sustained in a knee-on-knee collision.
Despite not having their biggest off-season acquisition, the Golden Knights are still cutting their way through the field, turning around their season from the sub-.500 start to now sit just a point out of second place in the Pacific Division. Las Vegas has points in 12 of its last 15 games, and Marc-Andre Fleury is already up to 20 wins on the year.
The Canadiens will need to make it more difficult on the Golden Knights’ last line of defence than they’ve managed in recent games. The team has scored just three goals in the past three contests combined, and that’s probably not going to get it done versus a team that is regularly scoring four in the month of December.
The man who landed the fatal blow in the first meeting is one Montreal will be looking to for some help on that front. The season has also turned around for Tatar, but in the opposite direction to the team that rented him a season ago. The game-winner back in November was his seventh goal of the year, and his 15th point in 17 contests. His offensive contributions have slowly dried up since, adding just nine points in the 20 games that have followed, and is currently on a stretch of six games without a point.
It’s not just a scoring slump for the forward. Things seemed to begin with a three-penalty night in Chicago in which he redeemed himself with a game-winning goal late in the third — incidentally, the last point he has scored for the team. Since then his games have been marred by turnovers and missing the relentless style that earned success in the opening weeks of the season, and he has slipped down the lineup as result, with a season-low 12:44 of ice time on Thursday night in a third-line role.
That’s not the position he wanted to be in for the rematch, but there’s no reason for him not to be able to rebound from a rough stretch. For he and his teammates, the goal will be just to get the win in today’s game, taking a positive result into a much-needed five-day break to recharge for the trip through Florida that follows.