How to watch
Start time: 9:00 PM EST / 6:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Flames region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
There’s been no questioning the Canadiens’ effort level in recent games. The wins haven’t come as regularly as desired, but all the elements that should bring them about have been present. It was mostly a matter of limiting the power-play opportunities for opponents, and capitalizing on one or two more of the chances they were able to get on offence.
That plan was thwarted by a spectacular game from Thatcher Demko on Monday as the Vancouver Canucks goaltender battled Carey Price in a proper duel in the first game of the series. Last night both goalies were at the top of their game once again, but this time Price brought some friends to the fight.
As good as Demko was once more, he could only do so much against the Canadiens’ onslaught. Sixty-four times he had to prepare himself to stop a shot, with 45 of those attempts making it to him. He stood on his head to keep his team in the game, but only managed to turn aside 40 of them in a 5-1 loss.
Following a period of games when the Habs struggled to score, they’ve posted at least five on the board in two of their last three games. With the special teams no longer sapping momentum, the Habs can roll confidently through the lines and all situations, and every line has the capability to contribute. The team is playing well, and the results are beginning to come. Now they try to carry that momentum into a new series, this time versus the Calgary Flames.
Tale of the Tape
|56.2% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||50.8% (10th)|
|3.36 (3rd)||Goals per game||2.69 (23rd)|
|2.64 (10th)||Goals against per game||3.04 (17th)|
|22.5% (14th)||PP%||21.1% (16th)|
|77.2% (19th)||PK%||79.8% (14th)|
Nearly hafway through the season, the Canadiens and Flames are meeting for just the third of nine times. The first two-game series began with Montreal’s home-opener, a 4-2 win that ran their record to 5-0-2, followed by their first regulation loss of the year in a 2-0 defeat two nights later.
Despite a couple of lopsided victories versus the Canucks following those games, the Canadiens had a rough month of February. So bad — especially when compared to the start — that Claude Julien didn’t stick with the team through to its conclusion.
Julien wasn’t the only one to lose his job behind the bench in the division, as Geoff Ward was relieved of his duties as well with the Flames not living up to expectations. In his place comes Darryl Sutter for another term to try to get the team back on track.
The teams that meet tonight will therefore be quite different from the groups that played at the end of January. Montreal is playing with a more aggressive five-on-five style and completely revamped power-play units, while Sutter’s number-one priority will be to get the Flames to play with the energy their game has been lacking. We saw in Montreal’s case that it can take a bit of time for the new coach’s approach to get adopted, but at the very least you should expect the Flames to be fully engaged from the drop of the puck.
It will provide a good challenge for the Canadiens after they played down a player for the majority of Wednesday’s match when Ben Chiarot left with what looked like a significant hand injury. The top defencemen will have to play big roles for a second consecutive night, but the coaching staff did a good job of distributing the minutes among the five available options on Wednesday. Jeff Petry led the way at just 23:28, which was actually less than Quinn Hughes played on the opposite side. With the majority of play in the offensive zone, those weren’t exactly taxing minutes, but it’s still not an ideal situation in a schedule as packed as the Habs’ current slate.
In Chiarot’s place will likely come Victor Mete, who has been watching the team evolve under Ducharme from the press box without getting a chance to adapt along with them. The full-team approach to breakouts and the quick movement up the ice should play right into his abilities, however, so it could be a fairly seamless transition for him on that front. He and his teammates will probably have a lot less time to make their plays tonight, and we’ll see how well they can handle the pressure.