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The last time the Montreal Canadiens saw the Vegas Golden Knights, they were shaking hands after winning their third-round playoff series, moving on to the Stanley Cup Semifinal. As a reward for making it that far, captain Shea Weber was presented the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, a piece of hardware that Montreal had never claimed before.
Since that trophy presentation, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about for Canadiens fans. The team was outmatched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Final, which wasn’t a shocking result considering the disparity between the clubs’ positions in the standings. The off-season also brought a lot more negatives than positives. There was a long-term recovery for Carey Price, the messy departure of Phillip Danault, and accepting that Western Conference championship trophy may well have been one of the last acts of Weber’s NHL career.
Those losses from the lineup are turning into losses on the ice. Montreal has fallen in nine of its 12 games, and the margin of defeat has been an average of 3.4 goals. It’s not just a matter of coming up short of the finish line so far, but getting lapped by the field. Can they remember what it took to be successful against the team from Las Vegas to add their fourth win of the season?
Tale of the Tape
|50.7% (15th)||Scoring-chances-for %||44.9% (27th)|
|2.00 (31st)||Goals per game||2.50 (25th)|
|3.33 (26th)||Goals against per game||3.10 (24th)|
|12.5% (28th)||PP%||0.0% (32nd)|
|68.9% (29th)||PK%||81.0% (18th)|
|4-2-0||SC Semifinal record||2-4-0|
The Golden Knights aren’t faring a whole lot better four months removed from that playoff series, ranking sixth in the Pacific Division with a 5-5-0 record. They’re also dealing with critical roster depletion, missing both Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty to serious injuries. The former Canadiens captain is expected to miss another month yet, while Stone, despite being placed on long-term injured reserve on Thursday, is resuming on-ice activities and could be back soon.
The reason for that move to LTIR was to make room under the cap for a major blockbuster pulled off by the Golden Knights. They just landed Jack Eichel in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, giving 2015’s second overall pick a fresh start after a frustrating six years in the NHL. First he will have to get healthy, and he’s expected to be out for three months following the neck surgery he’s scheduled for; the one that resulted in the dispute and ugly divorce with Buffalo in the first place. It means that Montreal won’t have to face Eichel as often each year now that he’s out of the division, but they will have to contend with Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs for the foreseeable future.
With the top two stars out of the picture, it’s been Chandler Stephenson leading the way for Las Vegas, with 10 points in 10 games, and all of them scored at even strength. They would have to be, because Vegas hasn’t managed to score a single goal on the power play this season; their special-team production is limited to a short-handed goal for Reilly Smith.
It feels like Montreal’s power play has been just as terrible, but at least there has begun to be a sign of life since Mike Hoffman entered the fray. They’ve managed three goals since the start of the recent West Coast road trip, scoring on three of their last 17 opportunities for a 17.6% conversion rate. It’s not quite the 50.0% efficiency of the Edmonton Oilers’ power play, but it’s progress.
Tyler Toffoli has the most recent tally, getting it late in a game that had already been decided on Thusday night. Perhaps it will be a spark for a forward who hasn’t had much of an impact to this point.
One of the players who helped set him up was Nick Suzuki, who has responded to what he said was his worst game in the NHL in the final game of the road trip versus the Anaheim Ducks into a run of five points in two games, factoring into all five goals Montreal has scored on the homestand so far. He’s now up to 10 points in 12 games to take over the team lead from Jonathan Drouin, and he’ll be counted on to keep that streak going to help knock off his former team.