How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Hurricanes region: Fox Sports Carolina
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
In case it wasn’t clear before the game on Thursday, this year’s Montreal Canadiens team is quite poor at holding leads. They squandered a multi-goal advantage yet again, not even managing to get a point in overtime.
A point that gets lost in that narrative is just how often the team is able to grab the lead in their games. Only two teams (Colorado and Edmonton) have scored more first-period goals. That is usually the sign of a good club that’s engaged from the drop of the puck. With very few exceptions, that has been the case throughout the season for the Habs, leaving little question about their desire to win. The concern instead has to do with their ability to capitalize on those good starts with more than just one or two goals. The most worrying aspect of their play has been how they’ve defended after getting on top.
It’s usually a case of either pressing unnecessarily to add to their lead, or sitting back too much and just getting more bodies between Carey Price and the puck he’s trying to see. Like their starts, it’s not a question of how much they want the results, but coming up with an effective strategy to make them happen. The solutions they’ve tried have proven to be poor ones more often than not this season.
If the Habs want to turn things around and pull off a win tonight, they’re going to have to rectify some of their issues. The Carolina Hurricanes are a desperate opponent, and not a club that’s going to get fazed by a quick start from the home side.
Tale of the Tape
|54.3% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||54.5% (1st)|
|2.95 (18th)||Goals per game||3.16 (13th)|
|3.08 (17th)||Goals against per game||2.84 (10th)|
|18.9% (21st)||PP%||21.5% (10th)|
|78.5% (20th)||PK%||83.0% (5th)|
The Hurricanes will be feeling a bit ornery after dropping both of their games since the trade deadline. They fell 3-2 last night on home ice to the Colorado Avalanche, coming back from an early two-goal deficit to tie the game in the third (a warning for Montreal), but then watching Samuel Girard score a goal in the dying minutes to earn the regulation win.
A third consecutive regulation loss tonight would drop the Hurricanes another rung while trying to secure a wild-card spot. With an identical record to that of the New York Rangers, they’d slip behind on the number of regulation and overtime wins. It would be a situation similar to what the Columbus Blue Jackets experienced a season ago; loading up at the deadline and then struggling to get everyone on the same page over the final month of the season.
Tonight’s contest is the start of an important six-game road trip for the ‘Canes, with stops in Philadelphia, Long Island, and Pittsburgh to battle three of the teams they’re chasing in the Metropolitan Division standings.
The player Marc Bergevin attempted to pluck away from the Hurricanes is having an excellent season. Sebastian Aho is Carolina’s top goal-scorer, sitting at 36 on the year after netting the only goal in a 4-1 loss to Dallas on Tuesday. His playmaking has taken a bit of a backseat to his finishing ability, but he still set up Teuvo Teravainen — the second-best producer in Carolina’s Finnish one-two punch — for the two goals last night.
Defence has become a bit of a concern for the Hurricanes with a few key injuries, which won’t earn them any sympathy from a Habs squad that has dealt with the same all season long. Dougie Hamilton was mentioned in the Norris Trophy discussion before breaking his leg on January 16. He still ranks fourth on the team with 40 points, and tied for fifth among NHL defencemen with 14 goals.
They still have the underrated Jaccob Slavin in the mix, a player promoted to the number-one role with over 25 minutes per night and 12 points of offence since that devastating injury. Their work in the off-season to add Jake Gardiner hasn’t panned out at all, however, as the former Maple Leafs blue-liner has struggled mightily to make an impact with his new team, trusted with a mere 18 minutes per night since Hamilton went down. He has just 19 points on the season, and is a team-worst -22, with the next mark being -8.
It all means that there’s a chance for the Habs to capitalize on the decimated blue line they’ll face, though they have to recognize their own isn’t exactly an elite group, either. Each team will get opportunities, and there’s a good chance we’ll see plenty of goals scored. Montreal will just hope to save a few of theirs for the final 40 minutes of the game.