How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Canucks region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
The hope after a surprisingly even series with the Ottawa Senators, and the subsequent three-day break that followed, was that such a performance would be left in the rearview mirror. Upgrading opponents from the worst team in the league to the best, surely the Canadiens would be more engaged and motivated when the Toronto Maple Leafs came to the Bell Centre on Wednesday night.
At the start of the game that was certainly the case. The Canadiens had their typical four-line pressure rolling right from the start, and they didn’t even need one full rotation through the order to get on the scoreboard. But that’s not what transpired for the remaining 58-plus minutes. After trading a few chances to start the opening period, with the fourth line, especially Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen, keeping Auston Matthews’s line contained, the Habs adopted a more defensive posture, more concerned about the opponent scoring than adding to their own total. That strategy is rarelt effective, and it didn’t work last night either.
It wasn’t until late in the game that the Habs remembered they were the faster team and could blow past the defenders set up to intercept passes. The final five minutes were more what we’ve come to expect from the Canadiens this year — and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it resulted in a second goal — but it came too late to change the outcome.
In this stretch of three games, we’ve seen moments like the first and final shifts last night, where the Canadiens are nigh unstoppable when they play their game, but those were merely flashes. The players know exactly what type of game they need to play, and perhaps tonight they can do that consistently versus the Edmonton Oilers.
Tale of the Tape
|54.1% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||47.6% (24th)|
|3.85 (1st)||Goals per game||3.47 (7th)|
|2.62 (8th)||Goals against per game||3.47 (25th)|
|21.3% (17th)||PP%||24.1% (11th)|
|80.4% (16th)||PK%||75.0% (25th)|
Montreal already has eight goals on the board for the nine-game season with the Oilers, using an aggressive power play and an even more aggressive penalty kill to great effect. When the teams met early in the season, every slight advantage, every step of pace greater than the opponent, was regarded as a chance to score, and that’s the mindset the team has been lacking.
The good news is that Josh Anderson hasn’t lost that mentality, and his power-forward game has been one of the highlights of the recent stretch, extending a goal-scoring streak to four games in what has been the coldest run of offence for the team. That’s precisely what a club would want from one of its highest-paid players, and something his teammates will be inspired to match.
The Oilers aren’t going to let them get away with a conservative approach. There’s simply too much skill at the top of the lineup to survive playing the way Montreal did for much of the game last night. Since the two teams met back in mid-January, Jesse Puljujarvi has started to have more of an impact, earned a bigger role, and has found some offensive success (until he, too, ran into the defensive stalwart that the Senators have become). That’s giving them another weapon besides just Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which is always an important thing for a club that was hoping to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Edmonton has also seen a change to its goaltending position, in that they now have two of them. Mike Smith is back in the fold, and had a solid debut on Monday when he allowed just one goal to the Senators. He has a long way to go to match Mikko Koskinen’s 13 starts already this season, but he could get game number two tonight. If so, we’ll find out if he can turn aside more chances than his teammate was able to when Montreal was the team firing the shots