How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Predators region: Fox Sports Tennessee
Streaming: NHL.tv/NHL Live
With less than a month to go in the regular season, and the rivalry with the Boston Bruins having wrapped up in the second week of February, the Canadiens will now play the Nashville Predators in the first of two encounters before the end of the campaign.
Both games also took place in the second half of last season, and didn’t go well for the Habs. They were outshot in each and outscored by a total of 7-2 in the series, which helped the Predators go on to a 100-point season, just covering off the inexorable rise of the St. Louis Blues to claim the division title.
The Blues are proving last season was no fluke, sitting at the top of the division once more, but it’s a very different story in Nashville. The Predators are well back of last year’s Stanley Cup champion, currently not even holding a ticket to the post-season. They’ll need to turn their fortunes around quickly to just sneak in as a wild-card team this time around.
Tale of the Tape
|0-2-0||H2H Record (18-19)||2-0-0|
|54.4% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||51.1% (9th)|
|2.94 (18th)||Goals per game||3.06 (16th)|
|3.09 (19th)||Goals against per game||3.12 (22nd)|
|17.9% (21st)||PP%||17.1% (25th)|
|78.7% (19th)||PK%||75.8% (29th)|
The most obvious culprit for the disappointing season is the Predators’ record at Bridgestone Arena. The club has a better points percentage on the road than in their own building, giving the normally raucous home crowd little to cheer about.
Poor second periods are their real downfall this year. Only the
best team in the NHL dreadful Detroit Red Wings have surrendered more goals in the middle frame (102) than Nashville (86). Since they score much less often at home in the first period (24 times) than on the road (36), they fall too far behind too early to get sustained positive results.
The man entrusted to help them through such dips in play isn’t up to the task this season. Pekka Rinne ranks dead last among goaltenders to get at least 30 starts with a save percentage of .895.
Around the beginning of February, new head coach John Hynes made the switch to Juuse Saros as the typical starter, and the understudy has been faring much better. He has gone 9-4-0 in that span, earning back-to-back shutouts of the Dallas Stars in his most recent action, and may be taking over the starting role on a more permanent basis. His .913 mark isn’t among the elite by any stretch, but average goaltending is giving his team at least a chance at a post-season place.
That chance is something Montreal is hoping to spoil tonight, having at least some say in a playoff landscape the city won’t be featured in. They didn’t make much of a dent in the Florida Panthers’ shot at surpassing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings last game, nor troubled the Tampa Bay Lightning the game before, so they’ll be looking for a better outcome in their return home.
At the very least they’ll want to score more often. Their first time being shut out this season on Thursday was nearly followed up by a second, only avoided by a great shot from rookie forward Jake Evans in the final frame.
To that end, the line combinations have gone through the Michel Therrien setting on the blender. Claude Julien has decided to mix things up, using these final dozen games to experiement with different trios. If it works, and the Canadiens can get off to one of their trademark fast starts on the scoreboard, the Predators may not be able to claw their way back in.