How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the US: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
For most of Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, it was looking like the few alterations to the forward lines would do nothing to solve the Canadiens’ scoring woes. With just half a period to play, three posts were the closest they had come to getting a goal. But things turned on an offensive-zone faceoff win while short-handed, and the team got enough momentum from that goal to put the game away minutes later with another.
Joel Armia was a menace for the Avalanche goaltender all night long, and Jonathan Drouin had one of his best efforts of the season, which was good news for him and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. On the 2-0 goal, Drouin was working hard along the wall, while Kotkaniemi shot the puck he was delivered; both good developments as the Canadiens look to return to offensive form.
An inability to score goals was easier to deal with given the play of Carey Price at his end. The netminder made 31 saves for his third shutout of the season, and second in his last five games. His save percentage is now up to a more respectable .910, and working its way higher.
Tale of the Tape
|54.4% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||51.7% (8th)|
|2.96 (15th)||Goals per game||2.89 (17th)|
|3.02 (19th)||Goals against per game||2.58 (2nd)|
|12.5% (31st)||PP%||27.8% (3rd)|
|78.9% (19th)||PK%||80.9% (11th)|
Price’s first shutout of the year came at the expense of the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, but the two games at the Bell Centre that followed weren’t so kind to him or his team, with a 3-2 decision going against them on November 24, and a shutout for Jaroslav Halak on December 17. Now set for the final game of the season series between the two teams vying for an Atlantic Division playoff seed, the Canadiens will attempt to even the series at two games apiece.
We’ve seen on several occasions this season how falling behind to a team with a strong defensive structure usually proves too large a hole for the Canadiens to climb out of. Losses to the San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators, and the shutout at the hands of the Bruins less than a month ago all fit that pattern, so it’s critical for Montreal to score the first goal this evening and force the home side to change up its regular game plan. Boston only allows 2.58 goals per game, and the Canadiens are averaging even less against them this year, so the challenge to overcome a team-wide slump will be no easier.
A goal or two on the power play would be the simplest way to break down the defences of their rival, but if general offence is a challenge right now, translating man advantages into goals is an uncrackable code. The efficiency is now down to 12.5 % — a goal on one of every eight power plays they receive — ranking dead last. Only three teams have fewer goals while an opposition player sits in the box, and that’s despite being seventh in total opportunities, with 152.
After half a season of missed nets, passed-up shots, futility on zone entries, and likely tens of thousands of dollars of composite sticks destroyed in frustration, the coaching staff made some adjustments to the units.
There are still a few issues. In a 1-3-1 formation headed by Jonathan Drouin at the top, Shea Weber is supposed to set up in the Alex Ovechkin shot to pound pucks on goal. However, we saw last game that his defensive instincts fight against such an alignment, and a lack of trust in Drouin at the point kept Weber hovering near the blue line to protect against short-handed breaks. That limits the danger of Weber’s shot, the skill of Drouin’s passing, and wrecks the structure of the top unit as a whole, so either more faith in or further tweaks to the structure may be necessary from players and coaches alike
The 2-0 goal offered up an enticing look at what Kotkaniemi and Drouin could do together. With each player able to work one half-wall in the zone and make plays to any other player, the Habs could be using both sides of the ice to their advantage. Now that the blender has seen its first use, if the new permutations don’t bear fruit, the staff may be more keen to give it a spin as the next few games unfold.