How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Flames region: Sportsnet West
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Many of the losses the Canadiens have suffered over the past two months have come when they’ve generally outplayed their opposition. They were usually in control of shot attempts and working to get chances from the slot area, but they either weren’t scoring enough goals, or managing to give up one more than they put in the opposition’s net.
On Saturday night the team tried a different approach, making it about as difficult as possible to pull out a win. Having just their third game of 25 shots or fewer this season and the fifth allowing 40 or more wasn’t quite enough of a challenge, so in the third period they decided to sabotage their one-goal lead with an own goal that sent the game to overtime. Through all of that they got a point for getting to the three-on-three frame, and there Ilya Kovalchuk’s game-high sixth scoring chance finally went his way, off the far post and in, for his first goal with his new team, and his first win.
With a second eight-game losing streak behind them, the Habs can relax a bit and not hold their breath praying for the clock to run out as they have in recent games, seeing that strategy result in a series of blown leads instead. It’s an important mindset to be in when a tougher opponent is on the schedule, and that’s just what the Canadiens will face this evening at the Bell Centre.
Tale of the Tape
|53.8% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||50.5% (12th)|
|3.07 (13th)||Goals per game||2.70 (23rd)|
|3.20 (22nd)||Goals against per game||2.96 (13th)|
|21.4% (10th)||PP%||19.4% (17th)|
|77.9% (23rd)||PK%||82.9% (6th)|
The Calgary Flames also won on Saturday night, a fifth consecutive win that moved them into first place in an extremely tight Pacific Division. With only two points covering the top five teams — all currently occupying playoff spots — that section can look very different from one night to the next, with no team able to afford to let up.
A short trip to the Eastern Conference could be treated as a break for the Flames as they get away from that constant pressure for a week. Montreal could pounce on such a dip in intensity, as they have with several strong first periods this year.
The Flames are still getting decent production from the duo of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, but their offence, and that for the team in general, is significantly down from a year ago. The club was third in the league with 3.52 goals scored per game in 2018-19. Now, they’re averaging almost one less per game at 2.70, ranking close to the bottom.
Part of the issue is that Mark Giordano hasn’t had the same near point-per-game performance that helped him claim the Norris Trophy last year. He is still chewing up over 24 minutes for his first-place club, so there’s little reason to worry about him. The drop in overall scoring is putting lots of pressure on the netminding duo of David Rittich and Cam Talbot, and it’s a challenge they’re not quite meeting as the Flames have allowed more goals than they’ve scored. In fact, they’re the only seeded team in the league with a negative goal differential.
They have been doing much better since Geoff Ward took over after Bill Peters’s transgressions cost him his job in November. The team had a seven-game winning streak immediately after that news to go along their current five-game stretch, and in Ward’s 20-game tenure the team has scored 63 goals and allowed just 56, while only three teams have more wins.
Leading the way for the Flames this year is Matthew Tkachuk, not just in points with 38, but with his aggravating (sometimes borderline) play. Playing 18 minutes per night, he’s always doing something to rile the opposition up, whether that’s putting pucks in their net or, as we saw on Saturday, blowing players up behind it. That particular case resulted in a four-minute power play for his team, which they used to grab tha game-winning goal.
Elias Lindholm was the one to score it, and he’s brought a new element to the team since his trade from Calgary. He leads the club with 20 goals, six of which have stood as deciders, putting him a tie for third in league game-winning goals. Their current construction needs the top players performing their best, and right now that’s what has them finding success.