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Canadiens vs. Lightning: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

The Tampa Bay Lightning make their first trip to Montreal for 2022-23 to face off against a Habs team trying to refind its mojo.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Lightning region: Bally Sports Sun

The Montreal Canadiens started this week on a high with a comeback shootout win over the Calgary Flames. However, the subsequent fall from those heights has been... unpleasant. Not only did the Habs lose successively to the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks, but they looked disjointed and incoherent in doing so. A team expected at the season’s start to lose — but to lose in a fun manner — wound up giving their fans in Ottawa and Montreal very little to cheer for. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, their descent may be far from over, as the arrival of the Tampa Bay Lightning heralds the beginning of arguably the toughest stretch of the Habs’ 2022-23 schedule.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Lightning
Canadiens Statistics Lightning
14-14-2 Record 19-9-1
45.6% (26th) Scoring-chances-for % 53.7 (6th)
2.80 (26th) Goals per game 3.62 (3rd)
3.50 (24th) Goals against per game 2.90 (13th)
14.4% (31st) PP% 27.1% (6th)
79.6% (13th) PK% 80.4% (11th)
1-1-1 H2H Record (21-22) 2-0-1

At the end of October, the Lightning were 5-4-0, and people started to wonder if the dynasty was finally coming to an end. But champions generally don’t just simply go away like that, and the Bolts head into the holiday season at 19-9-1, winners of four straight and sitting neatly in third place in the Atlantic Division standings.

A major focal point of the Lightning’s supposed decline was Victor Hedman. Long the linchpin of the Tampa Bay defence, Hedman’s offensive output through the first quarter of the season was down considerably from his career norms. At the 22-game mark, the Örnsköldsvik native only had 10 points, including a 12-game stretch where he recorded a meager lone assist. Hedman’s struggles even led to Mikhail Sergachev taking his place on the top power-play unit — a position that the former Windsor Spitfire currently still holds.

Speaking of Sergachev, the 2016 9th overall selection has very much cushioned the blow from Hedman’s slow start. The 24-year-old from Nizhnekamsk currently has 27 points in 28 games played, and is well on pace to obliterate his single-season career-high of 40 points. Sergachev’s special teams prowess, in particular, has been a revelation. The defender already has 13 points with the man-advantage, playing a major role in Tampa’s seemingly eternally potent power play. However, with the offseason departure of Ryan McDonagh, Sergachev has also been given more penalty-killing responsibilities than previously — an average of 2:49 per game compared to last season’s 2:08.

Sergachev, however, may not play against the team that drafted him, having exited Tampa’s December 13th game against the Seattle Kraken after blocking a shot and then sitting out the team’s next game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. This likely offers minimal respite for the Canadiens though, as Hedman happens to be re-discovering his offensive groove with six assists in the last five games.

When it comes to Tampa’s forwards, the story is very much the same as in previous years. Three players — Nikita Kucherov (45), Steven Stamkos (34), and Brayden Point (31) — are above the point-per-game threshold. Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul are both in double-digits when it comes to goal production, offsetting the loss of Ondrej Palat to the New Jersey Devils. Even Corey Perry has 13 points, which would incidentally put him in a tie for fifth on the Canadiens with Christian Dvorak.

The Habs did not practice on Friday following a back-to-back, so it's unknown whether Mike Matheson has recovered sufficiently to slot back into the lineup or whether Michael Pezzetta will return to the lineup after sitting out against Anaheim, possibly at the expense of Rem Pitlick or Jonathan Drouin. Those are the immediate questions surrounding the Habs roster with Sean Monahan and David Savard not expected back until after the Christmas break. As for Tampa, their only roster concern is that Sergachev remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Andrei Vasilevskiy will likely man the net after Brian Elliott played against Columbus.

Let’s be honest. No one expects the Canadiens to beat the Lightning — doubly so given what we’ve seen from both teams in the past week. Still, it would be nice to see a Habs team that’s a little bit more in sync than the discombobulated messes of Wednesday and Thursday night. A stronger performance, even one that doesn’t result in a win, will at least give the team some sort of grounding as they head into a seven-game road trip that features the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, 800-goal man Alex Ovechkin, and a rematch with the Lightning.