How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Avalanche region: Altitude
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
For the first time in a long time, the Canadiens are preparing for a game with a little bit of confidence. Eight consecutive defeats finally gave way to a win on Tuesday night as they took a jackhammer to the wall the New York Islanders put up on defence, peppering Thomas Greiss with 39 shots, and beating him on three. After hanging on to end the game, and surrendering a goal in the final minutes, the players finally exhaled when Shea Weber’s long-distance shot found the empty net.
It may have been the first win since November 15, but it was a third straight strong performance. After a disastrous night versus the New Jersey Devils last Thursday, the Habs played well enough to win on Saturday afternoon versus the Flyers, and hung with the Bruins until the midpoint of the third period the next night, but couldn’t finish things off in either. A combination of aggressiveness from the forwards and a more conservative approach from the defencemen is proving to be an effective formula.
Those were three good teams that the Canadiens went toe-to-toe with; all are division seeds in the Eastern Conference. Tonight they play another top club, the Colorado Avalanche, who sit second in the Central Division and are on a four-game winning streak.
Tale of the Tape
|1-1-0||H2H Record (18-19)||1-1-0|
|54.3% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||49.2% (19th)|
|3.25 (8th)||Goals per game||3.70 (1st)|
|3.46 (28th)||Goals against per game||2.81 (10th)|
|18.8% (17th)||PP%||19.8% (12th)|
|74.1% (30th)||PK%||78.6% (20th)|
The fourth of those victories came last night on the first stop of the Avalanche’s Atlantic trip. The Toronto Maple Leafs were handed another loss (still ranking behind Montreal despite the eight-game skid) when Valeri Nichushkin netted the winner on a short-handed break.
It’s probably a good thing that the Canadiens have learned their lesson from being too aggressive at the offensive blue line. Nathan MacKinnon would have eaten them alive if the defencemen were constantly getting caught up ice, using the game to pad his already lofty stats. In 27 games, the Nova Scotian has 44 points, including the two he added last night. The centreman is now on a five-game goal-scoring streak and hasn’t been held pointless since November 14.
MacKinnon is a near point-per-game player in his NHL career, and few teams have been spared over the past six-plus years. Montreal is just one of many teams that he’s found success against, with 11 points in 11 games.
The Habs and Avalanche have split the annual two-game series in each of the past three seasons. That starts with an enthralling 10-1 victory for Montreal in December of 2016, but most of the games since have been fairly low-scoring affairs. The teams combined for more than four goals just one time since that offensive explosion, with three shutouts recorded.
The most recent of those came in February when the Avalanche were steamrolled in Montreal’s surge up the standings. A much more confident version of Brett Kulak got things started with a short-handed goal, and his marker stood up as the winner on a rare occasion when MacKinnon and company couldn’t muster any offence.
There was a time when containing MacKinnon’s trio with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog would put you in great shape to get a win, but the Avalanche are a much more complete team in 2019-20. Both of those wingers have only been able to play 11 games this year, yet the Avalanche keep winning.
Some key addiitons are the reason why. The trade for Nazem Kadri gave them a very strong second-line centre, and the loss of Tyson Barrie in that deal has barely been felt thanks to the play of super rookie Cale Makar. Add a strong 24-year-old defenceman, Ryan Graves, to Makar’s side, bolster the forward corps with Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi, and get a follow-up performance from Philipp Grubauer between the pipes, and Joe Sakic has concocted a very strong recipe for success.
The Canadiens’ construction is shifted more toward the depth throughout the lineup than the top-end skill at both forward and defence, but they will still compete against such a group. There won’t be any time to rest versus a team competent from top to bottom, but a performance similar to what we’ve seen over the past week will have Montreal in line for a win.