How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Lightning region: SUN
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Things sure have changed since the Montrreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning squared off on Saturday. Five days ago, when the Habs were pummeling the Lightning in their own building with a 2-0 lead and a 17-0 shot advantage, they seemed to be on their way to a fourth win in five road games, more of a lead on both Tampa Bay and Florida in the standings, and the chance to tie to Toronto Maple Leafs for second spot in the division. The Canadiens then surrendered four consecutive goals, losing that game by a 5-4 score.
It was a squandered chance to gain some ground, but not a disaster on its own. The Habs saved that designation for the next night, when they overcome an 0-2 deficit to grab a lead on the Florida Panthers, then once again gave up four consecutive goals to fall behind, coming up one goal short for a second night in a row.
On Tuesday, they extended that losing streak to three games with a 3-1 loss in Carolina, not taking a single point from their post-Christmas trip and allowing two wild-card competitors to move several points ahead.
Tonight, Montreal plays the closest thing you can get to a must-win game in the first half of a season. The Boston Bruins have a big lead at the top of the section (despite some recent struggles), the coaching change in Toronto has cured many of their ails, and the Lightning are finally starting to march up the leaderboard with a roster will be tough to stop. If Montreal loses to the Lightning for a second time in five days, the gap becomes six points between the two clubs, and the Habs have two fewer games to make up their lost ground.
Tale of the Tape
|54.0% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||52.7% (7th)|
|3.23 (11th)||Goals per game||3.58 (2nd)|
|3.25 (23rd)||Goals against per game||3.16 (19th)|
|23.6% (8th)||PP%||29.7% (2nd)|
|76.0% (25th)||PK%||80.9% (17th)|
Making the task tougher is the amount of injuries the Canadiens are dealing with. Jonathan Drouin’s loss has caused a lot of forwards shifting from the minor to the NHL since he departed the lineup in mid-November, though his teammates have been able to hang on in his absence. Still ranking 11th in the legue in goals per game, the depth of the organization has allowed them to compensate.
The Canadiens have yet to win a game since Joel Armia was injured, and that’s probably not a coincidence. There’s nothing easy about dealing with the big Finn on either offence or defence, and that presence is sorely missed whenever he’s unavailable.
Already struggling with the absence of two top-six wingers (three from the top nine when you include Paul Byron), a third will have a big impact on their chances for a win. Brendan Gallagher had to be removed from Tuesday’s game after he was toppled into the path of Ben Chiarot, taking a knee in the head as he was falling. The assumption is that he failed the concussion protocol that he would have undergone through the second intermission, and may not be able to play in Montreal’s return to the Bell Centre.
There’s an excuse available if the offence were sputtering, but that hasn’t been the issue for the team, even in this stretch of losses. There’s no such justification for what is happening at the opposite end of the ice.
The Canadiens have their pick of goalies from the organization, and there are eight healthy defencemen on the roster. Yet Montreal ranks in the bottom third in goals against as well as power-play efficiency, and that’s been their downfall in 2019-20. They scored nine goals over back-to-back games versus Atlantic Division opponents, which was more than enough to come away with four points, but they found a way to give up one more than they scored in each game to put them in their current predicament.
If they’re going to snap a three-game skid, they need to end what is now a four-game winning streak for Tampa Bay. The fact that the Lightning have given up four goals in two of those wins is a testament to just how much offensive firepower they have, but also a reminder of their own defensive issues this season, which makes them far from invincible.
Carey Price is capable of shutting a team down, and definitely should be limiting opponents to fewer than five goals when he steps into the crease. It may require some of the same fight Charlie Lindgren showed in Tuesday’s performance. In fact, Montreal’s hopes of staying in the post-season chase could very well depend on it.