How to watch
Start time: **6:30 PM EDT / 3:30 PM PDT**
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Flames region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Heading into a three-game series with the Calgary Flames, the Montreal Canadiens were looking good in the North Division. They were eight points ahead with an extra game to be played, and the team had just had two decent games versus the Edmonton Oilers to prepare them for a battle with a team eyeing their spot. Only a complete disaster could break the spirit of a club looking ahead to the playoffs.
What the Canadiens have managed through two games so far is about the worst anyone could have expected. Not only have they dropped two games to see that gap drop to four, but they haven’t been near the same level that the Flames are playing, their offence completely neutralized and their defensive formation picked apart by one of the league’s least effective offences. To add injury to insult, Jonathan Drouin is missing time with an illness, Paul Byron was scrubbed from the formation on Saturday night with a lower-body injury, and Tomas Tatar had to leave the game on Saturday to force the Habs to attempt a comeback with just 10 forwards.
Even with all the omissions, the club still can’t get the player who has been the talk of the prospect world into the lineup because of financial constraints. Cole Caufield is limited to trending on Twitter for his highlight-reel goals in practices, torturing a fanbase watching his team struggling to even generate a shot from the slot in a game situation.
The fact that so many people are eagerly anticipating the eventual debut of the recent Hobey Baker winner, is putting a lot of undue pressure on a player who has only played two games of professional hockey, and at this point a spectacular offensive debut would elicit a feeling more of relief than of jubilation at a future star finally emerging on the scene. It’s an indication of how critical it is for the club to get things turned around, and to do it right now.
Tale of the Tape
|54.7% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||52.3% (9th)|
|2.89 (13th)||Goals per game||2.68 (22nd)|
|2.87 (16th)||Goals against per game||2.89 (17th)|
|19.1% (21st)||PP%||19.7% (18th)|
|77.6% (24th)||PK%||80.7% (12th)|
Desperation was certainly on Calgary’s side in the first two games. They needed the wins to stay alive, while the gap Montreal had built up gave them a bit of breathing space to get away with a few errors. Now that their lungs have become significantly more constricted, both teams should be feeling the same degree of urgency.
As dire as things seem, they get a lot sunnier if the Canadiens can find more goals than their opponent tonight. The gap grows to six points instead of two with a regulation win in Montreal’s favour. The Flames will only have eight more games to make up ground, and four of those will be played against a Canucks team just as interested in climbing up to that fourth spot, with a lot more offensive talent on offer. No matter what happens this evening, the Canadiens will still control their fate.
We should find out from the opening faceoff whether the team recognizes the situation it finds itself in. We’ve seen the Habs play consistently under their new head coach to take a game with a 60-minute effort, and we’ve seen just as many contests when there seemed to be no effort at all.
In goal, Jake Allen returns after being the only player to have a two-day rest. The defence needs to pay more attention to the front of the net to prevent him from facing so many point-blank chances, and making one crisp pass to the forwards to get them out of trouble. As for the forwards, they need to remember that the point of the cycle is to get possession of the puck away from one defender and find someone in a dangerous scoring area, even if the majority of those plays are thwarted by the tight-checking play of Calgary’s defence.
At its best, the team’s construction is supposed to be a mix of veterans who know what it takes to win, defencemen physical enough to contain the opposition while talented enough to support the offence, young centres who proved last year they can perform well in pressure situations, and capable wingers who use their combination of size and skill to make things happen around. the net. All 18 skaters should be at the top of their game tonight, because they only get one more chance to kick their closest pursuer off their heels before the sprint to the finish line.