How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the US: NHL Network
In the Rangers region: MSG2
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Things have gotten more difficult for the Montreal Canadiens over the past week. The response in the first game after losing Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron to injury was a poor one versus the New Jersey Devils last Saturday. Their two games since have seen better performances. They held the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators to 26 shots or fewer and had over 30 themselves, but an inability to finish off their chances around the net resulted in a total of three goals in those two games.
During this three-game slide they have at least claimed two points by getting the games to extra time, which is one positive from the current slump. The Florida Panthers are just ahead of them in standings after a hot stretch, still in striking distance as the second seed in the Atlantic Division, while those points are helping to cover off a surprising charge from the Senators (Wednesday’s win was one of the five they’ve claimed in their past six games) and what could be become a run from the reinvigorated Toronto Maple Leafs after getting a new voice behind the bench.
Picking up the odd point here and there isn’t going to be good enough to hold on to a playoff position over the next few weeks. Montreal needs to start seizing both points available to them and end this frustrating sequence, and another low-ranking team on tonight’s agenda is the perfect opponent to bring the Habs out of a lull.
Tale of the Tape
|2-1-0||H2H Record (18-19)||1-2-0|
|53.4% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||43.3% (31st)|
|3.32 (9th)||Goals per game||3.25 (10th)|
|3.09 (19th)||Goals against per game||3.50 (29th)|
|20.9% (12th)||PP%||21.4% (11th)|
|72.5% (28th)||PK%||71.8% (29th)|
The Rangers are rebuilding, and while some looked at their draft and work in free agency and predicted a quick return to contention, there’s still a lot of work ahead. The roster they have contains several raw rookies and a few older veterans, with neither group really able to offset the shortcomings of the other.
They are either last or one spot higher in every shooting and possession metric this season, with a pitiful scoring-chances-for percentage of 42.7%. New York allows 36 shots per game (only the Chicago Blackhawks are averaging more) and they are 26th in shots on target.
A talented roster allows them to take advantage of the few chances they get. They’ve managed to earn an even record by outproducing their five-on-five expected goal total by 25%, netting 65 goals in all situations through 20 games.
Artemiy Panarin was the biggest name in free agency this summer, and landing him was reason for a somewhat optimistic projection for the Rangers heading into the year. He has definitely delivered for his new team, posting 25 points on the year to sit 14th in NHL scoring. The fact that the Rangers appear to be in the running for another high draft pick can’t be pinned his shoulders — in fact, closer to the end of the year, his addition may actually be criticized for robbing a team in transition of another top-three pick.
What’s really hurting the Rangers this season is the play of their defencemen. Marc Staal has been one of the NHL’s worst possession players in the games he’s played. Jacob Trouba, who demanded New York be the destination in his trade from the Winnipeg Jets, has been the coach’s choice to take the tough defensive minutes on a fairly young blue line, and is crumbling under the burden. He has eight points through 20 games after a breakout performance of 50 last season that earned him an $8-million-per-year contract.
There are some bright spots on the blue line. Adam Fox has looked good in his rookie season playing a critical puck-moving role, as has the 24-year-old Tony DeAngelo who sits fourth on the team in scoring. For every player Rangers fans should be concerned about, there’s one giving them hope that the quest for contention is following the right path.
That makes them a dangerous opponent for any team. The Rangers are easy to dismiss as a lottery club, but it doesn’t take much effort on the part of their best players to put up a few goals on the scoreboard. The Canadiens aren’t currently playing with the offensive confidence to survive such an offensive outburst, so they’ll either have to respect the likes of Panarin, DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, and Pavel Buchnevich, or kick their own play up a notch to outscore those players. For people who’ve seen a contending Habs team struggle versus some of the lowest-ranked competition in the league over the past week, the hope will be that they can manage both.