How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: Sportsnet (English), TVA (French)
In the Avalanche region: Altitude
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
The Montreal Canadiens played some of their most lackadaisical hockey over this most recent road trip, and ultimately were fortunate to walk away with two of a possible four points. On Thursday night, all of the Canadiens’ weaknesses were made apparent in their defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues: a defence prone to lapses, a head coach who plays down to the speed of his opponent, streaky secondary scoring, and, above all else, a moribund power play. A team that played some of its best hockey to compensate for a slow start by Carey Price is now playing some of its worst just as the star netminder is beginning to hit his stride.
These problems are not new to the Canadiens, but this is perhaps the first time all season that all of them have struck simultaneously. Certainly, the Habs aren’t going to fix them all overnight, but every great journey begins with a single step.
Something has to change.
Tale of the Tape
|54.3% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||49.7% (16th)|
|2.96 (15th)||Goals per game||3.43 (7th)|
|3.09 (20th)||Goals against per game||3.18 (23rd)|
|12.8% (31st)||PP%||25.9% (5th)|
|78.4% (21st)||PK%||75.5% (27th)|
That sentiment is shared by the team that will be occupying the visitor’s locker room at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. While the Canadiens have merely been inconsistent, the Colorado Avalanche have plummeted in the standings since their last meeting. When the Avalanche defeated the Canadiens on December 19, 2018, they held a 19-10-6 record and sat a mere two points back of the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators in the Central Division. Nine games later, the Avs prepare for the rematch against the Habs with only a single additional victory to their record. The team has slipped to fourth in the Central, a single point up on a hard-charging Minnesota Wild team.
Like so many team slumps, the source of the Avalanche’s ills lie between the pipes. Semyon Varlamov’s .864 save percentage in December and January is a far cry from the .950 he posted in October. Philipp Grubauer, brought in specifically for situations like this, has fared even worse, with an .814 save percentage to his name for the new year.
Despite the efforts of key offensive contributors like Nathan MacKinnon, who has 11 points in the last nine games, the Avalanche simply haven’t been able to climb out of the hole that their netminders have put them in. Suddenly, MacKinnon’s very public outburst against head coach Jared Bednar in Calgary on Wednesday night makes a lot of sense.
Last time out, the Canadiens largely held MacKinnon and his linemates, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, in check, but two momentary lapses and a 35-save performance from Grubauer were enough to put the Avs in the win column. Will the Habs hope for more of the same — but just a little bit better — hoping that it will be enough to stop a player who has laid down the gauntlet to himself and his teammates?
The Avalanche head to the province that they used to call home, looking to save their season. If the Canadiens are not careful, they could be in that very same situation on the eastern side of the standings sooner than they realize.