How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Oilers region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Saturday’s game between the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks played out the way most in the series had, with Montreal obviously the better team and in full control for the overwhelming majority of the shifts. For their efforts they had four goals in regulation, and could have easily had that many more.
The Canucks took full advantage of the rare let-up from the Habs, jumping all over mistakes and using a few perfect screens to score four goals of their own. The biggest issue was how uninterested Montreal seemed at the start to periods, surrendering a total of three goals in the opening minute of the second and third frames.
Montreal took a ... calculated approach to the overtime period, not wanting to let the Canucks get a high-quality chance, but also not opting to take one of their own without it being a high-percentage play. Once they decided to do that, the final minute was a back-and-forth affair with both goalies needing to make spectacular saves. Carey Price and Braden Holtby continued that form in the shootout, when Holtby blinked first to hand Montreal the extra point.
Tonight’s opponent won’t need those mental and defensive lapses to find its goals. The Edmonton Oilers are one of the top offensive teams, with one of the best power plays to boot. It’s going to take Montreal’s best efforts to come out ahead at the end of the week-long three-game series.
Tale of the Tape
|55.5% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||49.6% (15th)|
|3.19 (11th)||Goals per game||3.40 (4th)|
|2.71 (12th)||Goals against per game||2.89 (18th)|
|23.8% (9th)||PP%||26.8% (4th)|
|76.4% (22nd)||PK%||76.5% (21st)|
The offence is of course led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, currently sitting first and second in the league scoring race. McDavid would be fourth on the list if you only counted his 39 assists and ignored his NHL-high 21 goals. The team has received 95 goals from someone other than him, so he’s the obvious catalyst for Edmonton’s attack, in case the nightly highlight reel of his plays didn’t make that abundantly clear.
Aiding the two superstars on the power play are somewhat forgotten 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has been routinely putting together 60-point seasons to no fanfare, and Tyson Barrie, who is rebounding after a poor tenure in Toronto. Breakout defenceman Darnell Nurse is now up to 10 goals and 25 points on the year, and unlike the other four mentioned, Nurse hasn’t seen much time on the top power-play unit. He’s contributing most of his offence at even strength, giving the Oilers an element they’ve been lacking for much of McDavid’s career.
The captain must also be chuffed to have a goaltender behind him who’s actually able to stop a few shots from the opposition. Mike Smith is putting together his best season since his team was still called the Phoenix Coyotes. He’s not getting overworked on a nightly basis, averaging around 30 shots on net (some of those resulting from his own puck-handling misadventures), and he’s reponding with the type of play that’s more than good enough to let the offence take over.
How will Montreal contain McDavid and not find themselves on those highlight reels in the next three games? Mostly just with more of what they’ve managed through the first three games of the nine-game season series. The league’s top point-getter has added just two assists to his tally in that sample, and Montreal has only surrendered one power-play goal.
The Canadiens thoroughly enjoyed facing Mikko Koskinen in the first two games, about as much as his teammates and coaches did not, as his eight goals allowed in two games played were about his average in the early part of the season. The Habs have already experienced Mike Smith’s current form, testing him 38 times in his second start of the year on February 11, and having nothing to show for it.
It hasn’t often been the case, but it could be a quality goaltending battle between Montreal and Edmonton all week long. The netminders will be major factors in how this series plays out.
The Oilers are currently tied for the division lead with 42 points, with Montreal five back, though their point percentages are fairly close. These next three matches are a chance for both teams to gain some separation from the clubs outside of playoff spots, and make it known they’re not giving up on finishing the year in the top spot in the North.