How to watch
Start time: 10:00 PM EST / 7:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Ducks region: Fox Sports West
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
Facing a back-to-back set to end the road trip, Claude Julien made the decision to go with Antti Niemi versus the toughest team of the schedule, the San Jose Sharks, on Thursday night. With a game versus an opponent that the Habs rarely enjoy success against, Carey Price was saved for the more-winnable game against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
While the hope was surely to be able to beat the Sharks, the result was probably more in line with expectation, as Niemi struggled to make even routine saves in the opening minutes and the Habs were forced to chase for the rest of the contest.
They put in a good effort to make up the gap — really they were the better team even while the Sharks were putting up their early goals — and had themselves back to within 2-1 and then 3-2, but in the end they were unable to come away with a single point.
There isn’t much to be disappointed with in the overall showing, save for a defensive lapse or two around their own net (which of course resulted in goals). A similar work ethic with Price in the net would have likely led to a win.
Now that the loss in the books, Julien’s gamble gets magnified. Montreal can’t afford to leave easily obtainable points on the board, and therefore need to head off the ice with a win this evening.
Tale of the Tape
|54.1% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||47.5% (27th)|
|3.00 (14th)||Goals per game||2.18 (31st)|
|2.93 (13th)||Goals against per game||3.04 (18th)|
|12.3% (31st)||PP%||16.0% (25th)|
|80.3% (16th)||PK%||79.5% (20th)|
The Canadiens were able to do that when the Ducks visited the Bell Centre in early February, in the midst of one of the worst prolonged slumps by an NHL team this season. The four goals the Canadiens scored were a small fraction of the 37 total the Ducks allowed during a seven-game losing streak.
Montreal was heading in the opposite direction at the time, setting themselves up in a battle for the second seed in the Atlantic Division with their play. Things haven’t been quite so productive since as they’ve slid down to a wild-card spot, but that stretch played a role in getting them to where they currently stand, with 14 more games to go.
Brendan Gallagher used the opportunity in that game to build on what is becoming a new career season, scoring two goals and adding an assist. It was Jesperi Kotkaniemi who got credit for the game-winner, splitting Gallagher’s goals with his ninth of the year.
Kotkaniemi has posted two more goals since that game, but hasn’t played the previous two for reasons of, to borrow a term used by the Toronto Raptors throughout this season, “load management.” Having already sat out for two games, the decision may just be to extend that to a third and slot him back in at home versus the lowly Red Wings.
While the rookie’s potential return is one storyline to follow, Price’s start will be a bigger one. He began the road trip with his 314th career win versus the Los Angeles Kings to tie Jacques Plante on the Canadiens’ all-time list. Should he be on the winning side tonight, he’ll end it in sole possession of that record.
Price was dialled in on Tuesday night, seeing everything that was put on net and clearing any puck that hung around his crease too long. When he decides that he’s not going to let anything past him, there’s not much hope for the opposition, and that will be the plan in the game tonight.