How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, CityTV (English), TVA Sports (French)
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Once upon a time, there were two hockey teams. The first one was well-prepared from the get-go. Through hard work and constant pressure, they slowly pushed the second team into a corner. Then, all of a sudden, all of their efforts were undone by a silly mistake. From there, the tables turned, and what was once a winning hand quickly evaporated into nothingness.
Montreal Canadiens fans probably know this fairy tale by heart. They’ve seen it play out time and time again over the past two years. A last minute tally here, a short-handed marker there, and more flukey bounces than one can remember. But Thursday night, the role of the first team was played by their opponents for a change. Ten minutes of solid work was unravelled by a Juuso Valimaki penalty leading to a Brendan Gallagher goal, and from there the Habs drove nail after nail in Calgary’s coffin until the final bell tolled.
Now, they just have to do all over again.
Tale of the Tape
|53.4% (7th)||Corsi-for pct.||54.7% (3rd)|
|4.71 (2nd)||Goals per game||3.00 (15th)|
|2.71 (12th)||Goals against per game||2.83 (16th)|
|30.8% (8th)||PP%||32.1% (6th)|
|78.1% (17th)||PK%||76.2% (19th)|
Truth be told, despite what at one point was a 4-0 scoreline, the Flames offered the Canadiens their stiffest test of the season. The Albertans went toe-to-toe with the Habs’ vaunted depth and gave as good as they got, essentially securing a draw at five-on-five. It was special teams play — two goals with the man advantage and one on the penalty kill — that doused the Flames for the night. Apart from this, Calgary can take heart from many things: that it was their backup goaltender in goal, that Valimaki is unlikely to have two bad nights in a row, and that they scored two confidence-salvaging goals late in the game. All of this can serve as evidence in the Flames’ locker room that they are in this fight.
The thing is, so can the Canadiens.
Whether it was rust or the thrill of being home for the first time in weeks, the Habs that took the ice bore little resemblance to the team that systematically demolished the Vancouver Canucks not that long ago. The Canadiens especially had difficulty dealing with the Flames’ cycle game below the goal line, possibly because Calgary is the first team they’ve played all year that is actually capable of playing said cycle game. Sloppy transition passes made life more difficult for the home team, who were, quite honestly, somewhat fortunate to not have surrendered a goal in the opening 10 minutes.
But good teams find a way to win, and if plan A isn’t working, they turn to plan B, or C, or D.
In this case, plan B was some solid netminding from Carey Price, who turned away half a dozen good Calgary opportunities in that opening flurry. Plan C was the power play, making sure that the Habs entered the first intermission with a lead. And Plan D was the team realizing who they were, discarding the Rudy and smothering the Flames for 38 of the next 40 minutes.
Now, Saturday night, we’ll get to see what backup plans the Flames have in their reserves.
With David Rittich already seeing the net, odds are high that off-season free agent acquisition Jacob Markstrom will play. Dillon Dubé, day-to-day with a lower-body injury suffered against the Canucks two weeks ago, may also make his return to the lineup. Beyond that, the Flames’ deployment should be roughly similar to what the Canadiens saw previously. Coach Geoff Ward did elevate Milan Lucic to the third line occasionally on Thursday night, but it was far from a permanent move.
The Canadiens should likewise remain relatively unchanged. Joel Armia’s timetable for recovery is still indeterminate — as is prudent for a concussion. Beyond that, Thursday failed to expose any major weaknesses that could justify Victor Mete’s return to the lineup. One question that might exist is whether Carey Price will start a second straight game. Two games in three nights is hardly taxing for a goaltender coming off a week off, but with five games between this Saturday and next Saturday. Claude Julien might be looking for a way to get Jake Allen between the pipes for more than just the one game in the upcoming back-to-back against the Vancouver Canucks.
Having seen that the Habs can be pushed back, the Flames will likely seek to reproduce their first period from Thursday, minus the goals against. The Canadiens will likewise seek to skip the effort from the first altogether and come out with the same energy that they had in the second. Whoever manages to accomplish their objective will likely emerge the victor.