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Despite having five days off for the holidays since their last game, little has changed for the Montreal Canadiens on the injury front. The one positive development is that Brendan Gallagher is travelling with the team on the second leg of its late-December road swing, but he won’t be able to play for the first game, and possibly not the second that goes the next day. Mike Matheson and David Savard remain in Montreal recovering from their injuries, so the defence corps won’t have any more veterans than what it saw in the western U.S.
With that being the case, Montreal has recalled Justin Barron from the AHL. The defenceman has made rapid progress with the Laval Rocket in the opening portion of the season, and he was the obvious choice for a recall when the team wanted the extra option for the back end. It means five of the seven defencemen now on the roster are rookies; a promising development for the future of the Habs’ blue line; a nail-biting scenario for Canadiens fans as the team is in Tampa to take on one of the league’s deepest offensive teams.
Tale of the Tape
|45.0% (26th)||Scoring-chances-for %||52.8% (8th)|
|2.68 (28th)||Goals per game||3.59 (4th)|
|3.47 (25th)||Goals against per game||3.00 (14th)|
|14.3% (32nd)||PP%||26.3% (9th)|
|77.2% (20th)||PK%||80.8% (8th)|
Depth is not a word you would use to describe the Canadiens’ forward situation. Anthony Richard has been playing well since he was brought up from the AHL and helped form an effective fourth trio with Michael Pezzetta and Jake Evans, and there’s a reliable option to put Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Kirby Dach together as top line. Outside of that, the middle-six permutations have failed to land on anything that can keep its head above water for any duration, let alone consistently contribute to the offence.
With the team’s current construction, there could be another feast by the Lightning’s forwards similar to what they enjoyed on December 17 at the Bell Centre. Tampa Bay netted five goals that night, all of them scored from the top of the crease as the Habs’ couldn’t deal with the attack. The one goal Montreal had was from a great play from Kaiden Guhle to jump up on offence; something Montreal will need to try to bypass some of the ineffective forwards, but also something that opens them up for dangerous chances the other way. It’s a risky strategy, but the only one that has a chance of working against such a strong club.
Maybe the Canadiens get a reprieve as the Lightning weren’t able to notch a power-play goal in their final two games before Christmas, and both were lopsided losses. Those back-to-back defeats broke a streak of five consecutive games with a margin of victory of three goals or more, the last being the game at the Bell Centre.
The penalty kill has become a real sore spot for the Habs recently after being the one thing they were really good at to start the season. As Martin St-Louis said after the last game in Dallas, it was the reason they ended the first part of the road trip with a loss. The Stars used three consecutive power-play goals to come back from an 0-2 deficit, erasing what was one of Montreal’s best efforts in recent weeks. You have to think it was one of the topics discussed by the coaches and players in any conversation since the game on December 23.
A year ago, despite how terribly the Canadiens performed during the season as a whole, they managed to earn a .500 record versus the eventual Stanley Cup runner-up. Every game featured a one-goal decision, and two required extra time. At this point last year, in the first game after the holiday pause, the Canadiens got a point in a 5-4 overtime loss. Given the way the Canadiens have struggled to score goals recently, I think they would take a similarly close result versus one of the top teams in their division.