How to watch
The Canadiens looked much more like they had during the playoff run on Tuesday versus the Detroit Red Wings. Sure, those Red Wings were missing two of their top forwards, but some of the basic elements of the Habs’ play — the defensive positioning, transition strategies, even working the puck to dangerous areas on the attack — were present for one of the few times this season.
We’d seen similar things from the Habs in their previous game versus Detroit, on the road in San Jose, and in a match with the New York Rangers at the beginning of the year. The team has generally looked discombobulated through the majority of their 11 games so far, so it’s simultaneously refreshing and aggravating to watch them play like they did on Tuesday night, knowing they could have been doing that all along.
Instead of lamenting their play in the past, we can only hope they’ll show more of this complete-team play going forward, whether you’re the type of fan looking for them to turn things around, or just hoping to be entertained the rest of the way.
Those in the latter group could get their wish tonight, because Montreal is hosting a New York Islanders team that ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots allowed per game and gets slightly fewer of their own on net than Montreal has to this point. In fact, it’s a team very similar to Detroit in nearly all metrics.
Tale of the Tape
|49.6% (18th)||Scoring-chances-for %||43.1% (31st)|
|2.00 (30th)||Goals per game||2.43 (24th)|
|3.09 (21st)||Goals against per game||2.43 (6th)|
|10.8% (29th)||PP%||20.0% (16th)|
|66.7% (30th)||PK%||85.0% (11th)|
|2-0-0||H2H Record (19-20)||0-2-0|
No team has played fewer games this year than the Islanders, but even when looking at point percentages they rank sixth in the Metropolitan Division, taking 57% of the points available to them with a 3-2-2 record. It’s going to be difficult for them to claim a playoff spot in what has proven to be the best grouping in the league from top to bottom though the first three weeks, so the wild-card positions could be their best hope.
Like the Canadiens, they’re not having much luck scoring goals, despite a middle-of-the-pack power play. They average 2.43 per game, and that’s not going to keep them on par with Carolina, Washington, Pittsbugh, and Philadelphia in the Metro.
The answer has usually been to become one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league, and Ilya Sorokin is doing his best to keep that identity. The goaltender has a .931 save percentage after playing evey minute of the season so far, and while that is only seven starts, he ranks eighth in the league is saves. Semyon Varlamov is healthy once again after starting the season on injured reserve, but there has been no reason to take his tandem mate out of the crease just yet. Maybe a game versus the NHL’s 30th-ranked team is the perfect chance to give Sorokin some rest, but we’ll see what the plan is for the netminders later today.
There’s no question who will be between the pipes for Montreal. After getting awarded the Molson Cup for the month of October, Jake Allen responded on Tuesday with his second shutout in his last four starts, and is going to play every game that’s not part of a back-to-back until Carey Price is back in the picture (the regular starter will be exiting the NHL Assistance Program on Saturday). Allen hasn’t done a perfect job in relief, but his .914 save percentage has been more than enough to keep the team afloat.
At five-on-five, Allen’s save percentage (.931) is actually better than Sorokin’s (.928), and only bettered by 16 other goalies to play at least three games. The biggest culprit for the Canadiens’ horrific start has been the penalty kill, responsible for nearly half of their goals against. Whether they can be disciplined enough to prevent the likes of Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Anthony Beauvillier from adding to their power-play points totals could be the deciding factor in tonight’s matchup.