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There were plenty of bad moments in the 2021-22 season for the Montreal Canadiens, but a few of them made a more lasting impression than others.
One of those was a game at the Bell Centre on December 9 when the Chicago Blackhawks came to town. Montreal failed to register a goal that night, adding to Marc-Andre Fleury’s shutout total, but most importantly resulting in the netminder’s 500th regular-season win. Habs fans hadn’t had a lot to cheer about as the loss was the fifth in a row for the home team, so they decided to make the most of the situation and give Fleury a loud ovation.
Another came in the final game of a long road trip in January when the Habs visited the Minnesota Wild. A new COVID lockdown had forced some rescheduling and the Canadiens were playing their 10th consecutive road game since the Christmas break. It was an uninspired 8-2 loss. Head coach Dominique Ducharme said after the game that the team would “put this one in the garbage,” but when it was followed up by four more losses on home ice, it was the coach who got taken to the curb.
Tonight, both of those storylines converge as Fleury is now a member of the Wild after a deadline trade last season, and is now looking for win number 522.
Tale of the Tape
|44.1% (28th)||Scoring-chances-for %||46.2% (23rd)|
|2.67 (27th)||Goals per game||3.80 (6th)|
|3.00 (14th)||Goals against per game||5.40 (32nd)|
|5.6% (31st)||PP%||36.4% (2nd)|
|83.3% (11th)||PK%||75.0% (22nd)|
|0-2-0||H2H Record (21-22)||2-0-0|
Fleury’s march up the wins leaderboard has stalled this season as he has just a single victory in five tries. and that coming against a Vancouver Canucks team handing opponents points like they’re boxes of raisins on Halloween. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Matt Murray has a worse goals saved above average per 60 minutes, and Fleury’s mark of -2.94 is significantly lower than the next netminder (Jeremy Swayman, -2.41) with at least two starts. Minnesota’s backup, Filip Gustavsson, has fared no better with eight goals against in just 95 minutes of play.
Random stat of the day: Josh Anderson at the faceoff dot: 7/8 (87.5%)
At least Fleury can take solace in not being the only one on his team playing poorly. The club is in the bottom 10 of the league in terms of scoring-chance share, and unlike some of the other teams in that section (Montreal included) they don’t have the excuse of being in the middle of a rebuild; Minnesota finished the 2021-22 season with 113 points. Rather than taking another step toward their goal of a Stanley Cup, they currently sit 29th in the league standings.
They are still scoring goals, and plenty of them. Mats Zuccarello is scoring at a rate of two points per game, and Kirill Kaprizov isn’t far behind with eight points in five games. The team is averaging nearly four goals per contest, ranking near the top of the NHL with such teams as ... the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, and Detroit Red Wings. Just a few minor adjustments on the defensive side should start to result in the wins they piled up with regularity a season ago, especially with a power play operating at nearly 40%.
Montreal hopes that defensive play stays loose for at least one more game because they’d like to score some goals of their own. They were held to just two on Saturday by the Dallas Stars, while also giving up more than three for the first time this year.
By the looks of things, they will have Brendan Gallagher available after he spent much of the last game going between the bench and the dressing room after hurting his knee. A return for Juraj Slafkovský sounds less likely, however, as his upper-body injury is still an issue and he’s undergoing tests. Expect the offence to be carried, as it has been so far, by the top line of Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Sean Monahan, as well as rookie defencemen Arber Xhekaj and Kaiden Guhle.