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
The Ottawa Senators faced two different teams in a two-game series last week. Thursday night they were completely outplayed by a buzzing Canadiens team working as a single unit, spread out in their positioning, probing the defensive line for weaknesses and finding one on nearly every shift. The Senators had no answer, and it was a comfortable victory for the visiting Habs.
Saturday night, perhaps Montreal was feeling a bit too confident, not prepared to put in the same effort and expecting to get the win regardless. We didn’t see the wide formation of players advancing up the ice, but many individual attempts to transport the puck, and then the players looking shocked when a Sens defender got his stick on the puck to turn the play the other way. When they did get set up in the offensive zone, it looked more like they were trying to set up a perfect goal to embarrass their opponent rather than just trying to get the puck in the net. They passed themselves out of some prime scoring chances, and saw several power-play chances go by the wayside because of it.
The strange part was that the Habs were getting rewarded when they did decide to just shoot on target, with three shots getting past Anton Forsberg. In truth, that should be enough to win just about any hockey game. All the missed assignments and complete lack of attention to detail allowed the Senators to score double that many, for their largest margin of victory over an opponent not named the Calgary Flames.
It was clearly just an off night for nearly everyone involved, from the forwards looking for the wrong things in the offensive zone to Carey Price failing to track a few pucks around his crease. Before that debacle the Canadiens had put up the solid showing on Thursday, and a truly impressive lesson in shutdown defence on Tuesday when the Edmonton Oilers came to the Bell Centre.
Tale of the Tape
|54.9% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||48.5% (20th)|
|2.91 (13th)||Goals per game||3.20 (8th)|
|2.79 (15th)||Goals against per game||2.75 (13th)|
|18.8% (21st)||PP%||26.2% (3rd)|
|77.9% (22nd)||PK%||79.8% (15th)|
The game plan versus the Oilers was just to clamp down on Connor McDavid in the neutral zone. It’s nearly impossible to match his elite speed, but Montreal could prevent him from collecting the puck in stride to gain the offensive zone, and did so consistently throughout the night. McDavid got so aggravated with the close checking that he went after Jesperi Kotkaniemi to pay back the favour, but it was apparent that physicality was an unfamiliar concept to him as his elbow came up high on the hit. He got a two-minute minor, and was docked half a shift’s worth of salary by the Department of Player Safety. Edmonton’s high-flying offence could only muster 17 shots that night — zero of them from McDavid — and Price turned each one aside.
Montreal’ number-one goalie will probably be in net once again tonight for another round with the Oilers. He and his teammates won’t be taking one of the clubs immediately ahead of them in the standings lightly, and you can expect more representative performances from everyone involved.
There’s also a new player to welcome into the fold. The 36-year-old Eric Staal has had his week of quarantine to make sure he’s free of the coronavirus, get a good amount of rest, and to celebrate his departure from the dysfunctional Buffalo Sabres. His new teammates will want to be on their best behaviour to not only let him know he’s come to the right place, but also to make sure he doesn’t steal a spot from them.
Jake Evans saw his own spot being put in jeopardy with the trade, and responded with some of his best performances at the NHL level. Like the rest of the young players in the lineup, he looked rejuvenated by the mid-season pause, and made sure his coaches and general manager knew he had the talent to stay in the conversation. It’s still likely that he will the one to sit out to allow Staal to get his first game in, but he’s not going to be completely forgotten for the remainder of the season.
Everyone, including Staal, will be hoping for more of the offensive skill from the veteran that he showed in his four seasons in Minnesota, than the career-low production rate he has so far this year. Whatever he has left in the tank, we should get a good glimpse of it tonight.