How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Islanders region: MSG+
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
It has been over two weeks since the Montreal Canadiens won a game. It’s been a rough stretch since a 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals had the Habs on a three-game winning streak, in second place in the Atlantic Division, and seemingly on the verge of great things.
An overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils the next night was disappointing, but regarded as probably a blip. A blown 4-0 lead to the New York Rangers a week later sent alarm bells ringing, and an 8-1 drubbing by the Boston Bruins and another loss to the hapless Devils brought that to a din.
There have been two more losses since Thursday’s game versus the now 9-13-4 Devils, but signs of a turnaround are there. Many of the issues with the defence were cleaned up versus the Philadelphia Flyers. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but it was one in which the Canadiens outplayed their opponent and put up some resistance against a good Flyers formation, enough to the get them to overtime.
A night later versus the Bruins, the defence was as disciplined as it has been at any point this season. One ill-advised pinch and a bad penalty versus the league’s top power play spoiled things, but at least the Habs can say they were just beaten by the better team, without just handing the game away themselves.
An effort like the Habs had versus the Bruins probably would have won them five or six of the games during the skid. That’s disappointing in hindsight, thinking of all the points lost, but encouraging for the immediate future. Given how the players have been berating themselves over a lack of execution, they will be aware of how well they performed on Sunday, and should be eager to see where a similar display gets them tonight.
Tale of the Tape
|2-1-0||H2H Record (18-19)||1-1-1|
|54.1% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||46.0% (30th)|
|3.22 (10th)||Goals per game||2.92 (17th)|
|3.52 (29th)||Goals against per game||2.36 (4th)|
|18.8% (15th)||PP%||18.3% (18th)|
|73.2% (30th)||PK%||83.6% (10th)|
The Islanders are a bit of an odd team this season. Their underlying metrics are nothing special — many of them are quite poor in fact, among the bottom five of the league — but they’re capitalizing on the low number of chances they do get, and are relying on stellar goaltending to make those goals stand up.
Thomas Greiss (.931) and Semyon Varlamov (.922) are in the top 15 in save percentage, once again showing the benefits of a tandem approach.. The team is getting along just fine without Robin Lehner, who himself is sporting a .929 mark with the Chicago Blackhawks.
One of the lightest schedules through the opening two months has seen the Islanders play very few back-to-back sets. The Detroit-Montreal combo they wrap up tonight is just the fourth of the season, and the next one isn’t until 2020 (they have seven more in the new year). That has allowed them to play the very energetic style the team is known for, with enough rest to do it all again the next game. For comparion, Montreal just completed their sixth back-to-back, and have three more before New Year’s Eve.
Mathew Barzal leads the team in offence once again, and is doing more of the scoring himself after mostly being a setup man in his first two NHL seasons. He’s on pace for a career high of 33 goals, yet a career low in assists.
After signing a big contract in the off-season to stay with the team after exploring free agency (with reports indicating Montreal was one of the teams interested), Anders Lee has had a disappointing start, currently registering as a half-point-per-game player and ranking fourth on the team in goals after leading that category for each of the past three seasons. He does now have goals in back-to-back games, however, so he’s still a major threat for Montreal’s defence to neutralize. He has only scored four goals in 16 career games versus the Canadiens, so hopefully that trend can continue.
The Habs will hope the Detroit Red Wings took at least a bit out of the Islanders’ tank last night, because they have had difficulty versus such intense forechecking pressure this season. They dealt with it well versus the Bruins, and replicating the tight checking that had both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak frustrated for much of the game will be required this evening. Montreal will get its opportunities versus the team that ranks 29th in scoring chances against per 60 minutes, and it’s a matter of making sure they convert.