How to watch
For many teams, including the two playing at the Bell Centre tonight, the game they play on Saturday will be the last one before the trade deadline passes and the balance of power shifts to make the weak teams weaker and contenders more imposing.
Many of the additions to this point have been made by teams at the top of the Atlantic Division, with the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning making big splashes. At the bottom end of that group, the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are selling off some of their current NHLers with the hopes of reaching the level of their Floridian rivals in the near future.
A full rebuild is something the Canadiens haven’t fully committed to in recent years, and they nearly made a short-term reset work a year ago, but we’ll find out with the moves made over these three days if that philosophy changes under the new front-office personnel.
Ottawa cleared house years ago to bolster its prospect pool. While it meant the addition of a number of top-tier players, the club is still unable to reach the post-season, destined to finish near the bottom of the league for the fifth consecutive year.
That doesn’t mean that they’re an easy mark in the NHL, and Montreal knows all about that from their matchups last season. Even the first meeting this year, played during Montreal’s best stretch of the season when they won seven of eight games, the Senators held the Habs to a 2-1 score.
Montreal has followed up that eight-game run by going 3-3-2 as the initial magic Martin St. Louis spread over the club has perhaps begun to fade a bit. At the very least, the team has developed the same no-quit attitude the “pesky Sens” have maintained through their recent history.
Tale of the Tape
|46.4% (25th)||Scoring-chances-for %||47.2% (23rd)|
|2.48 (32nd)||Goals per game||2.62 (26th)|
|3.82 (32nd)||Goals against per game||3.25 (23rd)|
|13.5% (31st)||PP%||18.3% (23rd)|
|74.3% (29th)||PK%||80.3% (14th)|
At this time of year for the bottom teams, the attention often shifts to the young players, but it’s those members who’ve shone brightest under the spotlights for the teams all year long. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are Montreal’s two best players at the moment, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. On defence, Alexander Romanov is becoming one of the most reliable options, and while Corey Schueneman may be a bit older than these players, he has also been making his mark. He received a bonus opportunity with an injury to a teammate and used those unexpected minutes to score his first NHL goal on Thursday night.
Since the beginning of March, it’s been Josh Norris and Tim Stützle pacing the Senators’ offence, the former with seven goals, which ranks near the top of the NHL in that time. But while Canadiens fans look forward to watching the development of Romanov and Schueneman down the stretch, those who follow the Senators just saw their leading man, Thomas Chabot, go down with a broken hand, and that has ended his season early. That’s the league leader in time on ice per game, at 26:23, ruled out as D.J. Smith’s main pillar.
Despite that loss, the Senators still found a way to claim a 3-1 win last night while hosting the Philadelphia Flyers. Chabot’s minutes have been claimed by Erik Brannstrom, and the 15th selection of the 2017 NHL Draft has held his own in the two games with elevated ice time so far, even snapping a 10-game pointless streak but setting up Norris’s game-winning goal last night. His coach has been reluctant to use him since he arrived from Las Vegas, but now with no other choice, everyone can get a good look at what Brannstrom has to offer.
A weakened defence corps should be something the Canadiens are eager to pounce on, so their current trend of scoring at least three goals per game should stay intact. The question is whether their defence and goaltending can make those goals stand up. It’s a test they’ve been consistently failing over the past couple of weeks, and not even the return of Jake Allen could turn the tide on Thursday despite some incredible saves on his part. As much as St. Louis is enjoying reinvigorating the offence and simplifying the other aspects of play, it seems a bit of structure is required on the back end. The Senators’ relentless style of play has the ability to point out all of the weaknesses still left to work on.