How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Penguins region: ATTSN Pittsburgh
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Back-to-back losses were never in the Canadiens’ plans to catch several teams ahead of them in the standings. If they were going to make the post-season, it meant they’d have to win about three of every four games the rest of the way — which they were doing from January 11 to Saturday’s overtime win versus Toronto. The Habs would need a six-game winning streak to get back on that .750-points-percentage track to hit the same 98-point mark that served as last season’s Eastern Conference cutoff.
To add 37 points to the 61 they’ve amassed so far, the Habs will need to go 17-3-3 over the final 23 games. It seems a nigh impossible feat for onlookers like us, but the players, with their “one game at a time” mentality, won’t be worrying about what they need to do over a two-month period, but just play well enough to win in their next one and go from there.
That next one is another difficult game versus a top-quality opponent. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been playing well since a tough start to the season, suffering just six regulation losses since the end of November and no back-to-back losses in that two-and-a-half-month span.
Tale of the Tape
|54.1% (3rd)||Corsi-for pct.||50.6% (12th)|
|2.98 (17th)||Goals per game||3.25 (8th)|
|3.03 (16th)||Goals against per game||2.73 (6th)|
|18.5% (22nd)||PP%||19.9% (15th)|
|79.3% (17th)||PK%||82.8% (7th)|
A source of encouragement for the Habs, one of those six losses was the 4-1 decision Montreal took at PPG Paints Arena back on December 10. Carey Price was much more like himself, a preview of the form we’ve been seeing from the club’s top player from January to now, turning aside 33 of the 34 shots he faced.
It certainly helped that Sidney Crosby was out with an injury at the time. Since his return to the lineup on January 14, the Penguins’ captain has more multi-point games than zero-point outings, and three game-winning goals.
Montreal was hoping — perhaps too strongly — for something similar from Jonathan Drouin. His absence was brought up by anyone following the team when discussing the fall from playoff contention. He had been a positive factor on a nightly basis, finally seeming to put everything together in his third season in Montreal. But unlike Crosby, he didn’t hit the ground running when he came back from his injury, hardly noticeable in the three games he’s played, with a mere two shots on target.
If you’re not watching the final games of the season to see a highly improbable playoff push, you’re probably just interested in seeing how the individual players do. Drouin, who was playing like a proper top-six winger, has the ability to provide plenty of entertainment, and it’s surely just a matter of time before he begins to make an impact again.
It will also be interesting to see how Nick Suzuki fares up against the Crosby-Evgeni Malkin duo. He has gradually taken over Max Domi’s place as second-line centre with his complete game, and tonight is another opportunity for him take a step forward in his development versus elite competition.
Jake Evans’s chance to build on his surprising NHL debut may be put on hold. The forward was the least-used player in Wednesday’s game versus Boston, and the team may prefer to put more of their deadline rentals in the lineup for a showcase opportunity. Nevertheless, the 2014 seventh-round selection has looked more confident in the top league than anyone could have predicted, He’ll be one of the players in the conversation for the rest of 2019-20, whether that’s about beginning to carve out an NHL career, or getting returned to the AHL to continue his role as a top-line forward for a team with a legitimate shot at playing beyond the regular campaign.