How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet East/Ontario/One (English)
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
In the Capitals region: NBC Sports Washington+
Streaming: ESPN+, NHL Live, RDS Direct, Sportsnet Now
The Canadiens sure are an odd team this season. On any given night, they struggle to score goals, averaging just over two. There have been plenty of times they’ve played games that they should have been favoured to win but simply couldn’t score enough.
Despite the general state of the offence, they’ve done well versus teams known for their defensive play. They went into San Jose to play a team employing a trap structure they’ve always had issues with and came away with a 4-0 win. The Calgary Flames have earned a shutout in a third of the games they’ve played this year. Montreal took their first meeting of the season by a 4-2 score and looked like a strong team from top to bottom with their 200-foot game. In the last game we saw, they made a very good defensive team look pedestrian as they posted six goals on the Nashville Predators. Along with two wins at home versus Detroit, those are the only wins Montreal has.
It was one of those games that makes you question why they can’t play that way all the time. It’s true that the Predators weren’t at the top of their game, but the Canadiens kept them on their back foot by zipping the puck around the ice quickly. We’ve watched them fail to string even two passes together over spans of games, but on Saturday night they were connecting half a dozen to keep the goaltender’s head spinning in the offensive zone. The result was at least a goal from each trio, including Ryan Poehling’s despite not really having a line at all with only 11 forwards dressed.
Even with all the offence, it wasn’t a comfortable game as Montreal’s own defensive structure broke down late. The Predators starting spending time in the offensive zone in the third period, and got some calls (as undeserved as some of them may been been), clawing their way back in with two goals on the man advantage. Matt Duchene completed his hat trick later on to make it a game once more.
It was another case of the Habs showing their lack of attention to detail on the back end, and the top player in tonight’s opposing lineup, Alexander Ovechkin, is even more capable of capitalizing.
Tale of the Tape
|51.1% (14th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50.3% (15th)|
|2.20 (29th)||Goals per game||3.37 (7th)|
|3.50 (29th)||Goals against per game||2.32 (4th)|
|14.8% (28th)||PP%||16.7% (22nd)|
|69.2% (29th)||PK%||83.3% (12th)|
|2-1-0||H2H Record (19-20)||1-1-1|
Even during his best seasons, not many paid much attention to Ovechkin’s threat to the top of the goal-scoring list; Wayne Greztky’s record, set during an era when goaltending wasn’t nearly as refined, and their equipment was nowhere near as advanced, as it is now was surely so far out of reach it would stand forever.
However, despite a 33-goal campaign in 2016-17 that seemed to be signalling a decline, Ovechkin hardly slowed down as he entered his mid-30s. He had 48 when the league halted operations in 2019-20 and another 24 in just over half of a normal schedule last year. This season, he’s already up to 15 through 19 games, a 65-goal pace.
He’s not just filling the net on the power play, as he only has three goals while his team is up a man so far this season. It’s not the signature scenario of him setting up inside the left circle and blasting pucks through netminders. That is still the most dangerous weapon in his arsenal, but he’s been finding goals from different areas this year, including some tip-ins from the top of the crease. He’s also scored three times into an empty net as he’s been out to kill off the final minutes in games and boost his record chances. For context, his career high in empty-net goals is six in a season.
It’s going to be difficult for Montreal to contain Ovechkin, who has 33 versus them in 50 career games. But the good news is Washington is another strong defensive club that should inspire them to play their best hockey. The Capitals allow an average of 2.32 goals per game, ranking fourth in the NHL, and sit second in shots allowed per game at just over 27.
That shutdown style has helped them earn 11 wins and a spot in second place in the Metropolitan Division. The numbers would be even more impressive if they could find a way to win in overtime. Capitals observers are witnessing the same thing we did with Montreal last season, as they’ve been on the wrong side of all five overtime decisions so far. On a related note, up until an outlying 5-2 loss to Seattle in their previous game, their first seven losses were by just one goal. Can the Canadiens put together another good performance to add another tick in their loss column?