Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet One, CITY-TV (English), TVA Sports (French)
Streaming: NHL.tv / NHL Live (free game)
Death, taxes, and the Montreal Canadiens losing to the San Jose Sharks.
The Habs team that took to the ice on Thursday night was rested and refreshed following a four-day rest, and the jump in their legs was evident from the get-go. Outshooting the Sharks 13-8 in the opening frame (12-5 at even strength) and outchancing them 17-4 (7-1 high-danger), the team was unfortunate to enter the locker room deadlocked at one. That failure to land an early knockout punch turned out to be their undoing, as the Sharks tallied three times in the second en route to a 4-2 win.
Tale of the Tape
|2-1-0||H2H Record (18-19)||1-2-0|
|52.0% (8th)||Corsi-for pct.||52.9% (3rd)|
|3.67 (4th)||Goals per game||3.29 (10th)|
|3.20 (20th)||Goals against per game||3.14 (19th)|
|20.0% (16th)||PP%||24.1% (6th)|
|68.9% (30th)||PK%||83.7% (12th)|
In many ways, the game against San Jose has been a microcosm of many Canadiens defeats to this point: carry the play at five-on-five, fall behind against the run of play, and then struggle to break an opponent allowed to take a defensive mindset. On Thursday night, as it has been on many nights this season, it was the penalty kill that let the Habs down. The Sharks took an undeserved lead with two markers with the man advantage, demonstrating what can happen if you give talent an opportunity.
This predilection toward allowing moments of opposition briliance to undo a solid effort will once again come to the fore Saturday night, as the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. The Leafs sit four points ahead of the Canadiens with two additional games played, having defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-1 last night. Frederik Andersen started that game, so the Habs will likely face backup Michael Hutchinson, who is still looking for his first win of the season.
The Leafs have started slower than expectations, effectively trading wins and losses through their first 10 games. Media attention is building and fans and pundits alike are questioning everything ranging from Mike Babcock’s player deployment to Mitch Marner’s lack of production to Andersen’s subpar goaltending (.901 save percentage, -1.98 goals saved above average).
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for Montreal, Claude Julien and his charges have been largely spared the wrath of the media and fanbase thus far. However, questions are starting to be asked about several trends that have persisted throughout the early season. First and foremost, naturally, is the state of a penalty kill that has legitimately cost the Canadiens points in the standings — and one that will be sorely tested against the firepower that the Leafs can array.
Second, Julien’s player usage decisions are coming under some scrutiny — and are now expanding beyond whether Jesperi Kotkaniemi is being overly protected. Against the Sharks, Julien deployed Kotkaniemi’s line for only 6:25 at five-on-five, a startling number compared to the 9:12 that Nate Thompson’s line received. This was despite Kotkaniemi’s trio having the better of the play and Thompson’s line in the possession negatives. In the same vein, both Max Domi’s and Phillip Danault’s lines played well against the Sharks, but on the surface, it’s difficult to justify Domi’s triumvirate playing three full minutes more than what has been the Canadiens undisputed top line for over a year now.
Ultimately though, the buck stops with the players, and the Habs’ best players — namely Shea Weber and Carey Price — have not been consistently the best players on the team. Still, the Canadiens are right up there with the vaunted Leafs, even with only half of their guns firing. Imagine what could happen if they put it all together?