How to watch
For whatever reason, the Montreal Canadiens just can’t figure their game out. Sometimes they look like a playoff team with how their defencemen and forwards are connected throughout the contests, more often they look like a group of players who’ve never had experience playing on a team before.
Last night’s game versus the Buffalo Sabres was an instance of the latter. The defensive-zone coverage was just five players skating around trying to be the one to win possession, while the offensive-zone play was limited largely to individual efforts. The results were obvious from the 39-26 shot counter in Buffalo’s favour, and even moreso from the 4-1 scoreline, with Montreal’s one goal an unassisted marker from Josh Anderson.
Injuries are one of the Canadiens’ issues, with big names like Carey Price and Joel Edmundson still missing, but a decent system can help a team compensate. Just ask tonight’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tale of the Tape
|49.9% (16th)||Scoring-chances-for %||52.7% (8th)|
|2.18 (30th)||Goals per game||2.90 (15th)|
|3.64 (31st)||Goals against per game||2.50 (5th)|
|13.6% (28th)||PP%||11.9% (30th)|
|68.7% (29th)||PK%||90.2% (1st)|
The Penguins haven’t had Evgeni Malkin in the lineup all season, and Sidney Crosby missed the opening weeks with COVID-19 and an injury. Bryan Rust, one of their top three even-strength producers in the past two seasons, has only played 12 games, while top defencemen Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin have also been out of the lineup.
They didn’t cope perfectly through the losses, having more losses than wins, but they managed to stay within striking distance in the Metropolitan Division by keeping games close. Now that Crosby has returned to the lineup to restore some balance, Pittsburgh has gone on a run to make up some of the deficit, winning its last five games.
It all started off with their first meeting of the season series with Montreal. They arrived at the Bell Centre on November 18, got goals from five different forwards (including Crosby with his first of the year), and left with a one-sided 6-0 win.
Tristan Jarry got his first shutout of the year in that game, and has added two more in the four games since. In fact, he’s only allowed two goals total on this five-game streak, never dropping below a .968 save percentage in that time, and now sitting at a .938 mark.
Jake Allen had a somewhat similar run at the end of October, with two shutouts in a three-game span, but he hasn’t had Jarry’s level of consistency this year, and there’s only so much he can do when the team in front of him is confused about how to play defence. He’s often been left to fend for himself; no other goalie to start at least 10 games in the opening quarter of the season sees more rush attempts against at five-on-five (Jarry ranks 16th on this 33-goalie list), and many of those are odd-man scoring opportunities with a defenceman caught up ice.
You’d have to say the chances of the Canadiens suddenly finding the cohesive form to patch the holes in the defence are low, but, as mentioned off the top, they’ve shown that ability in a handful of one-off cases, and often against such strong defensive clubs on the other side. If tonight is one of those nights, they might be able to keep pace with a team on a roll. If it isn’t, it could be even more of a disaster than that first meeting nine days ago.