How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Rangers region: MSG2
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
The Montreal Canadiens have been very good at getting out to leads this season. They don’t exactly have an enviable forward group, but offence (outside of a few short stretches this season) hasn’t been the most glaring issue. What they really struggle with is holding on to those leads once they’re gained.
Tuesday saw the latest instance of a blown multi-goal lead after Montreal got up 2-0 in the opening eight minutes. Some poor officiating played a role in getting the Vancouver Canucks back in it, but wasn’t reponsible for the Habs losing the 2-1 lead they still held and a 3-2 advantage in the third (the penalty Christian Folin was serving at that time was a legitimate one). A comically poor overtime period that would have left a team of Timbits players shaking their heads capped off the comeback for Vancouver.
Tonight Montreal will try to get the win against not only the hottest team in the NHL, but the club that mounted the largest comeback over the Canadiens this season: the New York Rangers.
Tale of the Tape
|54.2% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||46.5% (28th)|
|2.97 (17th)||Goals per game||3.32 (6th)|
|3.05 (16th)||Goals against per game||3.05 (17th)|
|19.2% (20th)||PP%||22.8% (7th)|
|78.7% (20th)||PK%||79.2% (19th)|
On November 23, things were going great for the Habs at home. After a few close games that went for losses leading up to the game, Shea Weber scored three minutes in the second period to put Montreal up 4-0. Before the end of the second, it was 4-3. Artturi Lehkonen’s second goal of the night had the Rangers’ run stopped, but three more goals from the visitors let them not only salvage a point, but earn both by winning 6-5 in regulation.
Montreal got even in the three-game season series two weeks later, going into Madison Square Garden and stunning the Rangers’ fans in attendance. With just over a minute remaining in a much lower-scoring game, Nick Suzuki turned defence into offence by intercepting a zone-entry pass and sending the pay the other way. Nick Cousins’s rebound bounced to Nate Thompson, who scored what stood as the winning goal.
Alternating between wins and losses was the story of the Rangers’ first half. The 2020 calendar year began with them sitting at a record of 19-18-4, which wasn’t boding well for a post-season appearance. Then on January 6, they recalled their blue-chip goaltending prospect, and that proved to be a major difference-maker.
Igor Shesterkin got a win in his first NHL game, doing enough to get his team a 5-3 result versus Colorado. His rebuilding team didn’t give him much help two nights later, allowing the New Jersey Devils to pepper him with 49 shots. The goalie proved his mettle with a 46-save effort for another victory. In total the rookie has started 10 games in the big leagues, and won nine of them, sporting a .940 save percentage in his brief career.
The Rangers were marching closer to an improbable playoff spot, with Shesterkin playing the same role Jordan Binnington did a season ago to pull the last-place St. Louis Blues to a division title and eventually a Stanley Cup. Such a finish was the goal when this rebuild for New York started, though the process seemed to be much further along than anyone anticipated.
On trade deadline day, when focus was turned to the likes of Brady Skjei and Chris Kreider, news broke that Shesterkin had been involved in a car accident, sustaining a rib fracture that will keep him out of action for at least a few weeks. It was a big blow to their playoff hopes, which now rest on the shoulders of Alexandar Georgiev, and former star netminder Henrik Lundqvist who had been relegated to the David Ayres role on the team as the third option.
New York has had one of the lighter schedules to this point of the season, which makes their playoff outlook look much rosier when seeing the games in hand they hold on some of their closest competitors. The flip-side of that situation is that they will be one of the busier teams down the final stretch. They have more back-to-back sets (three) than two-day breaks (two) over the final five-plus weeks of the season.
The first of those back-to-backs starts tonight in Montreal and then finishes in Philadelphia, which itself is the start of a home-and-home series with a Flyers team currently occupying the third seed in the Metropolitan Division. You have to assume the coaching staff will be more concerned with the division rival than a team behind them in the standings, which means it could be a first start for King Henrik since February 3 versus the Dallas Stars, a game in which he allowed four goals through two period before getting pulled.
Even in his prime, Lundqvist was rarely as imposing versus the Canadiens as he was versus nearly every other franchise (besides the two playoff series between the two teams, of course). Montreal is one of just three clubs he hasn’t earned at least a .500 points percentage against, and has lost 10 of his last 13 decisions versus the Habs. If he is called upon for the start, it should give the Canadiens a better chance at getting right back into the win column.