How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Flyers region: NBCSP
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
With a crucial game up for grabs on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens put in a great effort versus the Chicago Blackhawks. A 48-shot night gave the Bell Centre faithful plenty of scoring chances to get excited about, but a combination of posts, great saves, and missed opportunities left them with no goals and, more critically, no points.
Starting the year firing on all cylinders — and more of them than most believed their retooled engine possessed — Montreal’s offence has been slipping over the last few weeks. Even with an atrocious power play, they hovered near the 12th-best goals-per-game mark for most of the season, helping to hold them surprisingly high in the standings. But that rank is now down to 18th, matching their descent in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With 16 teams making the post-season, the dried up offence is enough to push them out of the post-season picture.
Scoring three goals in a game is a recipe for success in the NHL, and the Canadiens have won the last four contests in which they’ve accomplished that feat, but the team has only managed two goals or fewer in the other six of their last 10 games, losing in regulation each time.
Down to about a 23% chance of making it to the post-season, the offence will need to turn around in hurry if they’re going to pull off this implausible task. At the very least it would give some players the chance to head into the off-season on a bit of high note.
Tale of the Tape
|54.3% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||48.7% (19th)|
|2.92 (18th)||Goals per game||3.06 (11th)|
|2.94 (14th)||Goals against per game||3.33 (27th)|
|11.9% (31st)||PP%||16.3% (24th)|
|80.7% (16th)||PK%||78.6% (25th)|
In the first game of the season series with the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, the Montreal Canadiens started off with perhaps their most commanding period of play all season. It was played nearly exclusively in the Flyers end, but as the story went on Saturday versus Chicago, it didn’t result in any goals. The Flyers went on to win the game, outscoring Montreal by a 5-2 count in the final 23 minutes.
Montreal got redemption in the second game a month later. Just past the halfway point of the opening frame, Carter Hart was heading to the Flyers’ bench with his team in a three-goal deficit. Seven minutes into the third, Brendan Gallagher had already earned his first NHL hat trick, and Montreal was fully in control with a 5-0 edge, allowing one goal to the visitors before the final horn sounded.
The two teams put up valiant efforts this season to be so close to a playoff position. Each rebounded from bouts of below-average goaltending and defensive play to go on a charge. With a playoff berth unrealistic for both teams, tonight’s contest will most likely come down to being one of pride to claim the title of Best of the Rest.
In seasons that could be defined by the failure to make the post-season, there have been very positive developments for both sides. Montreal saw the growth of a somewhat surprising third overall pick into what appears to be a blossoming top-line star centre the franchise has been missing for years. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has had one of the best seasons by an 18-year-old in league history, and all signs point to a rapid development in the next few seasons.
Philadelphia used eight goaltenders this season, adding to the seemingly triple-digit list they’ve used since Ron Hextall’s departure. But they may finally have an answer in Hart. The earlier performance in Montreal was one of a few shaky outings in his rookie season, but he’s had just as many stellar games as poor ones as a 20-year-old starting netminder, with a 41-save performance against Pittsburgh on Sunday perhaps his best to date.
Some of the stars may be getting older on both sides, but the talented members of their respective prospect pools have begun making a splash at the NHL level, with plenty more set to emerge. So perhaps this game can be seen less as just the final of a relegation series among teams that couldn’t make it, and more a preview of clubs who should be battling with the top teams in short order.