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In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
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Will the real Montreal Canadiens please stand up?
After a Villeneuvian sprint through the old Pacific Division, the pesky back-marker Ottawa Senators suddenly forced the high-speed Habs to slam on the brakes. A team that was used to five or six goals a game suddenly found themselves in an old-fashioned dogfight, scrapping for every shot, every goal against a Senators team with nothing to lose and nothing to fear. Nonetheless, bloodied but not bowed, the Canadiens emerged from the mud with two points from the mini-series and 18 on the season of a possible 24.
Now, with their little detour dealt with, it’s time to get back to business. Right now, that business involves keeping pace with the Toronto Maple Leafs atop the North.
Tale of the Tape
|53.8% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||51.5% (11th)|
|4.00 (1st)||Goals per game||3.69 (4th)|
|2.50 (7th)||Goals against per game||2.62 (8th)|
|22.2% (14th)||PP%||36.6% (3rd)|
|79.6% (17th)||PK%||75.5% (23rd)|
The last time these two teams met was opening night, and while the 5-4 overtime decision went in the favour of the Leafs, it was arguably the play of Montreal that turned more heads. Since then, the two Original Six rivals have shared similar paths: they’ve both endured mixed results against Ottawa, enjoyed considerable success against the prairie teams, and thoroughly pasted the Vancouver Canucks, taking a combined 15 of a possible 16 points.
Amusingly enough (or is it appropriately?) it is that opening-night 5-4 decision which more or less separates the 10-2-1 Leafs and 8-2-2 Habs as they prepare to meet again.
By this point, the Leafs need no introduction. Auston Matthews, fresh off his 300th NHL point, heads the 40 million dollar quartet with 11 goals on the year. His wingman, Mitch Marner, leads the team with 21 points, while John Tavares and William Nylander are also in double digits. Beyond that, only four other players have more than five points on the year. One bright spot has been Jason Spezza, who has apparently sampled a few draughts from the fountain of youth.
In contrast to Toronto’s eight, Montreal has 11 players who match or exceed the five-point threshold, five of whom are in double digits. That depth has allowed Claude Julien to roll the same four trios and three pairs one after another, night after night. The Canadiens may also get Joel Armia, who’s been sidelined since a “perfectly legal” headshot in Vancouver, back in the lineup. Corey Perry has done yeoman’s work since entering the picture, but Armia’s skill set is much better suited to handle Toronto’s speed and transition game.
A power play humming at almost 37% percent will paper over any cracks in the team’s construction. Head coach Sheldon Keefe isn’t worried about any roster flaws, happily throwing out his best players for 20-plus minutes a night and putting Frederik Andersen between the pipes for 11 out of 13 games thus far. The priority for right now, especially in this season with fluid and uncertain scheduling, is winning. The long game can wait.
After opening night, Josh Anderson repeatedly insisted that the Habs were “the better team.” He and the rest of the Canadiens have had to wait almost a month to prove it, but they’ll finally have their opportunity Wednesday night.