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Yesterday’s full day of NHL games featured one of the most important matches on the calendar to date: a four-point-swing game between the two worst teams in the league, and therefore the ones with the greatest chance of of claiming the first overall pick. The Canadiens entered with a one-point edge for that coveted spot, and left Gila River Arena three points up on their closest challenger after a 5-2 loss.
Clearly, getting blown out by the second-worst team in the NHL, there weren’t many positive performances from the Canadiens’ lineup, but there were a few players putting in some effort. Jonathan Drouin had the primary assist on both goals the Canadiens scored, while Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Romanov put in typically strong performances to really stand out from a crowd of teammates that weren’t nearly as interested.
Losses may be the best outcome for the Canadiens’ future prospects, but Dominique Ducharme’s choices to challenge a goal, replace his goalie, and then get an extra attacker on the ice show that he’s still looking to win these games. So what does the coach do to make sure he gets more out of his group tonight versus the Dallas Stars?
Tale of the Tape
|46.4% (24th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50.1% (17th)|
|2.08 (32nd)||Goals per game||2.77 (23rd)|
|3.68 (31st)||Goals against per game||3.00 (18th)|
|11.6% (32nd)||PP%||25.5% (6th)|
|74.0% (28th)||PK%||77.6% (25th)|
|0-1-1||H2H Record (19-20)||2-0-0|
One decision will need to be made on who starts in net. Cayden Primeau began yesterday’s game, but was swapped for Samuel Montembeault in the third period. Does that mean the coach is planning to run with Primeau again tonight and wanted to give him a rest? Does he go with his more veteran option of Montembeault who had additional time between the matinee and tonight’s contest? Maybe there was no method to the madness for a coach just desperate to find some success in his first full year.
He does have some options at the skating positions for the first time in quite a while, with Michael Pezzetta being the most likely to return to inject some life into the team. A change-up on defence could be in the cards as well.
The Dallas Stars may find motivation in the freefall of the Edmonton Oilers making a wild-card spot more likely for them. They have the three Western Canadian teams all just a point or two above them, so they have a chance to leapfrog several clubs with some good results. They were dealt with rather easily by the two teams in Florida last week, and this is their only chance for a home win to get on track before packing up to head back east.
The Stars have had decent goaltending to hold them in the fight this year. Braden Holtby has a .920 save percentage and deserves much better than his 6-8-1 record. Jake Oettinger has enjoyed more success, getting wins in nine of the 12 starts, despite his efficiency being five points lower. The third netminder in the mix, Anton Khudobin, was sacrificed to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, playing about 95 minutes of those contests, and allowing the top options to rest up for other matches.
Offence has been hard to come by for the Stars (even if we might all be a bit envious of their 2.77 goals-per-game clip), so those goaltending performances too often go to waste. The Stars do have a handful of players with nine goals or more, and even a couple of point-per-game players in Joe Pavelski (36 points in 35 games) and Jason Robertson (32 in 28), but not enough scoring throughout the lineup.
A major issue is that Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov have a combined 19 goals and 42 points, despite holding three of the four richest contracts among the forward corps. The last three seasons have been struggles for all of them, nowhere close to the productive levels they had consistently enjoyed prior to that, and it could very well result in consecutive years missing the playoffs following the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020.