How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet, CITY-TV (English), TVA (French)
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
Wednesday, January 20, 2021 was supposed to herald a return to normalcy, to predictability, to a time when systems and process ruled the roost. Instead, Habs fans were treated to chaos not seen in years: a shootout loss punctuated by four deficits, four game-tying goals, a squandered late lead, and highlighted throughout by a bizarre and seemingly endless parade to the penalty box.
Thursday brought much of the same — for about a period and a half. Two leads, both blown; an even more strict standard of officiating; more short-handed markers than power-play tallies. Halfway through the second period, with the score 3-2 in favour of the visiting Habs, it looked like we were on our way to a sloppy replication of the 1987 Canada Cup.
Then the dam broke.
Truth be told, the Canadiens had been slowly turning the screw ever since the start of the second period. Three Vancouver power plays could not hide the reality that through the first 14:56 of the frame, the Canucks had managed only one shot attempt at five-on-five. When Josh Anderson batted in Nick Suzuki’s rebound, it wasn’t the Canadiens squeezing out a little breathing space against a dogged opponent, it was them landing a decisive blow against a teetering opponent.
Tale of the Tape
|54.0% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||47.7% (20th)|
|4.80 (2nd)||Goals per game||2.83 (16th)|
|3.00 (18th)||Goals against per game||4.67 (29th)|
|30.0% (6th)||PP%||15.4% (20th)|
|76.0% (20th)||PK%||71.0% (25th)|
As the Canadiens and Canucks prepare for the rubber match of the series, the question facing the home side is: “What do we have left in the tank?” In terms of five-on-five play, through two games, the Canadiens hold a 95-59 advantage in shot attempts, lead 50-30 on the shot counter, and have generated 46 scoring chances to Vancouver’s 30. If not for the power play, the Canucks could be coming off two consecutive blowout defeats.
Complicating matters, a mere six games into the season Vancouver is dealing with a crisis on the blue line. Having lost Alexander Edler and Travis Hamonic after Wednesday night, the Canucks saw Jalen Chatfield depart mid-game on Thursday. Tyler Myers has escaped additional discipline for his blindside hit on Joel Armia, but Vancouver, already forced to press rookies Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty into action on Thursday, may be forced to look to their reserves for at least one more blue-line body. Early indications are that Jordie Benn will return to the lineup on Saturday, necessitating Rafferty’s demotion for salary cap reasons. Edler and Chatfield are day-to-day, with their availability for Saturday still up in the air.
All of this is culminating in some heavy minutes being logged by important individuals: Nate Schmidt has played 55:43, Quinn Hughes 48:43, and Myers 45:49. In contrast, the Canadiens’ leader in TOI is Shea Weber at 47:10. Vancouver has already visibly tired in both games so far. On Wednesday, they wilted in the third. On Thursday, it started in the second. What can they muster on Saturday?
Despite their lopsided victory, the Canadiens did not escape unscathed. Paul Byron was the first casualty of the season, exiting in the third period after bearing the brunt of a Shea Weber slapshot. Joel Armia followed, concussed by Tyler Myers in an incident that will surely not be forgotten Saturday night. On paper, the Habs have the depth to replace both Byron and Armia, but whether the newcomers (Corey Perry, Michael Frolik, or maybe even Victor Mete) can immediately find the same chemistry that Byron and Armia already enjoyed is up in the air. Armia’s trio, featuring Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli, has been driving the Habs forward in these two games, and any disruption will be a blow, albeit a manageable one, to the Canadiens.
It’s been a long trip to start the season, but the familiar lights of Mont Royal are within sight. Before the Canadiens come home though, there’s one more task that needs to be done. These two games have clearly demonstrated Montreal’s superiority over their B.C. opposition. But the last game is the hardest one to win, and Vancouver, staring a 2-5 record in the face, will surely not go quietly into that good night.