How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East/360 (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Predators region: Fox Sports - Tennessee
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/Rogers NHL Live
Suffice it to say that starting on June 29, 2016, every meeting between the Canadiens and the Nashville Predators would be marked on the calendar until Shea Weber or P.K. Subban either retired or left their respective clubs. This meeting, despite the fact that two-and-a-half seasons have passed since that momentous summer day that shook the foundations of the Montreal sporting scene, is certainly no different.
It was, perhaps, supposed to be another dagger plunged into general manager Marc Bergevin’s back. Here was Subban, starring for one of the league’s best and most electrifying teams, coming back to Montreal to lay a beating on a Canadiens team mired deep in the league’s basement, against Weber, likely still struggling to regain his game legs after a prolonged injury to start the season — so the narrative at the start of the season was supposed to go.
It hasn’t quite played out that way.
Tale of the Tape
|0-0-2||H2H Record (17-18)||2-0-0|
|54.3% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||52.9% (6th)|
|3.12 (12th)||Goals per game||3.00 (13th)|
|3.12 (22nd)||Goals against per game||2.55 (1st)|
|13.1% (30th)||PP%||14.8% (28th)|
|77.4% (22nd)||PK%||81.4% (10th)|
Make no mistake, Subban’s prodigious talents have been on full display in Nashville when the elite blue-liner has been in the lineup. But an upper-body injury suffered on November 13, 2018 against the San Jose Sharks has limited him to 22 games so far this year. Subban only managed to return to the lineup just after Christmas, and so is still likely in the process of hitting top gear.
Conversely, Weber’s absence from the lineup at the start of the year could have been just what the doctor ordered, as the captain of the Canadiens has come back better than anyone could have hoped. He is not only logging big minutes (25:36 time on ice per game on average) and putting up points (five goals and six assists in 17 matches), but his return has coincided with (or caused?) a sharp uptick in Carey Price’s save percentage. With Weber in the lineup, the Habs have rebounded from a tough start to go 11-6 to finish off 2018 and start 2019.
So instead of Weber vs. Subban, perhaps tonight’s narrative can be about two very good hockey teams — one expectedly so, and one surprising everyone — instead.
The Predators are still very much the elite team that everyone had pegged them to be at the outset of the season, despite suffering major injuries to key players that would cripple lesser rosters. Apart from the aforementioned Subban, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Kyle Turris have also seen significant time on the Injured Reserve list. Arvidsson returned to the lineup on the same day as Subban, but Forsberg remains in the infirmary, although he is traveling with the team with a possible return next week. Turris, meanwhile, was just placed on the IR for the second time this year with an undisclosed injury this week.
All of these injuries did catch up to the Predators in December, as they went 6-7-1, including a six-game losing streak, to fall behind the Winnipeg Jets in the race for the Central Division title. Getting Subban and Arvidsson back appears to have jumpstarted a struggling offence, however, and the Preds enter Montreal having accrued five of a possible six points in their last three games. Although losing to the lowly Detroit Red Wings last night takes some of the wind out of their sails.
As for the Habs, their ability to exceed all expectations has been well documented, and they have the potential to get even better if Price continues to trend toward being the goaltender the Montreal faithful took for granted during the Michel Therrien days. Nashville will represent their first major test of 2019. Can they rise to the occasion against one of the league’s elite, and against a certain individual on the opposing blue line who lives for Saturday nights in Montreal?