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Facing what may have been the sternest test of the season to date, the Montreal Canadiens overcame a slow first few minutes of the first period — and a lengthy absence for Jonathan Drouin as he underwent the concussion protocol — to fairly comfortably defeat the NHL’s best team. The Washington Capitals surrendered five goals, and didn’t add a point to their lofty haul for the first time since October 14.
It was an especially good game for Tomas Tatar, who recorded a point on four of the five goals, including notching the empty-netter himself. Just as importantly, he stayed out of the penalty box, which had been an issue for him all season. That discipline was critical in a game featuring Alex Ovechkin, who converted on the one opportunity the Capitals were awarded.
The victory was the Canadiens’ third in a row; the second such streak in just over two weeks. A win in tonight’s game would give them four consecutive for the first time this season, and welcoming a team that has earned just six wins on the year has those two points sitting on the table.
Tale of the Tape
|0-2-1||H2H Record (18-19)||3-0-0|
|52.7% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||46.2% (29th)|
|3.53 (7th)||Goals per game||2.50 (28th)|
|3.00 (15th)||Goals against per game||3.50 (27th)|
|20.3% (15th)||PP%||12.5% (28th)|
|72.4% (28th)||PK%||75.4% (24th)|
The quality of opponent doesn’t always correlate with the Canadiens’ success, however. You can add the Capitals to the list of top-level teams that Montreal has beaten this season, one that already included the Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, and the St. Louis Blues in the only two games the Habs will face the reigning champions this year. On the other hand, Montreal has failed to reach the same level we’ve seen versus elite clubs when dealing with inferior opposition.
Thirteen of the Canadiens’ 19 games have been played versus teams currently above a .500 points percentage. Their record is 8-2-3 versus those opponents; earning about three-quarters of the available points versus good teams. In the six they’ve played versus those under .500, the Habs are a measly 3-3-0, with losses to the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and league-worst Minnesota Wild.
The New Jersey Devils are just 6-8-4 in 2019-20 despite perhaps the loudest off-season of any NHL team. Not only did they select top draft prospect Jack Hughes, but they added Norris Trophy-winner P.K. Subban and took advantage of Vegas’s cap situation to land highly touted free agent Nikita Gusev.
Those moves aren’t currently working out as planned. Hughes started slowly in his rookie year and has just nine points, but that still leads the production of both Gusev (6) and Subban (5). It’s still very much Taylor Hall’s team, whose only really aid is coming from the ever-reliable Kyle Palmieri. Coming into tonight’s game, the Devils have scored a paltry 46 goals through 18 games.
Despite the Devils being in a similar situation a year ago, the Canadiens nevertheless struggled in that season series. New Jersey claimed all three victories — three of the 31 they recorded — and outscored Montreal 10-5. The Habs had no more than two goals in any game against a team handing out an average of 3.3 per night.
Two of those losses came in the month of February as the Habs were otherwise on a march in the second half. Looking back at the season in hindsight, there were several places the Canadiens could have found the two or three points they needed to make the post-season, but securing just a single one of the available six versus the team that went on to win the draft lottery can be regarded as one of the culprits for the Habs falling just short.
So far in 2019-20, things aren’t shaping up to be nearly so dire for Montreal when April rolls around. They’re not just in a playoff position, but gradually working their way to the top of the Atlantic Division as teams falter behind them. Plenty of things can happen to derail a strong start (or end a poor one for a rival), and no result should be taken for granted. That means the Canadiens need to treat the Devils as no more inferior than the top-ranked Capitals from last night game while they’re able to fire on all cylinders, because the last thing you want is to look back at a game from the second month of the season and wonder, “What if?”