How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Canucks region: Sportsnet Pacific
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Being ready to play from the opening faceoff has been an issue for the Canadiens in recent weeks. Whether it’s from not having the proper personnel on the ice to start or just not getting up to the same level as their opponent, the same thing happened on Wednesday night, and Montreal was down 1-0 just 50 seconds in.
Better starts to the next two periods let the Canadiens work their way back into the game, and a relentless effort throughout the final frame was rewarded with a late goal to tie things up, ensuring the Habs would head home with at least half the available points on a six-game road trip.
Once again, that was all the points the Habs could glean from the match, as they skated off the ice following the extra period with their heads down for an eighth time.
And yet despite those eight points left on the table through the first half of the season, Montreal is somewhat comfortable in a playoff spot. It would have been nice to be just four points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs (and now the Edmonton Oilers as well after their win last night) for the top spot in the division, but the gap is still sitting at just six, and the Habs have at least one game in hand on everyone above them.
They’re presented with a great opportunity to significantly reduce that distance this weekend with back-to-back games against the Vancouver Canucks. The Canadiens have had full control of the season series to this stage, with points in every game, and five goals in six of them. These will be the last two meetings between the teams this year, and a chance to start a six-game homestand off strong.
Tale of the Tape
|55.1% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||47.0% (28th)|
|3.21 (11th)||Goals per game||2.70 (22nd)|
|2.66 (10th)||Goals against per game||3.15 (21st)|
|21.5% (14th)||PP%||20.0% (16th)|
|76.7% (19th)||PK%||81.2% (11th)|
Much of that depends on whether Thatcher Demko can maintain his incredible form, though the back-to-back set likely means Montreal will only face him once. The Canadiens halted his winning streak at four games the last time they met in Vancouver, so he has decided to start a new one of three games in the time since. His lowest save percentage among those seven wins (including one versus Montreal to open the recent road trip) was a .938 mark on Wednesday versus the Ottawa Senators.
The question for head coach Travis Green is which game he gives Demko. Does he go all-in with his team at its freshest to try for a first regulation win against Montreal tonight, or does he see if Demko can be the difference in a game played between two tired teams on Saturday?
For Dominique Ducharme, that decision doesn’t carry the same weight. While Carey Price has re-established himself as the number one, Jake Allen is sporting the seventh-highest save percentage among goalie to get at least 10 starts. No decision (save for a desperate desire to run Price in both) will be a bad one — unless the first game is a loss and it gets played up as a big controversy, of course.
The coach’s biggest concern should be how his defence can hold up versus another team with some top-end offensive weapons. It wasn’t able to slow down Kyle Connor in the two-game set in Winnipeg. The staff had been doing an admirable job of distributing the ice time among the six blue-liners, but with Ben Chiarot out, Xavier Ouellet has been given only about 12 minutes per night in his two games.
There’s no let-up in the upcoming schedule, and Jeff Petry and Shea Weber shouldn’t be approaching 25 minutes per game in this stretch. Maybe that means different pairings to find better partnerships, but some change will need to be made to keep the main options from burning out before the season ends.