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The Montreal Canadiens were clearly the second-best team in their game versus the stacked Florida Panthers on Thursday night, a disparity in talent level you’d expect given their standing in the league and approach to the trade deadline. But the Canadiens didn’t play like they had fewer than half the points of their opponent, and stayed in the fight right until the final whistle.
The end result was a one-goal loss as they couldn’t get set up in the final minutes to create a tying goal, and that’s becoming a theme for the team. The five-game winning streak may be several weeks behind them, but four of their last five losses have been by just a single goal, the three before Thursday’s regulation defeat coming in extra time.
Keeping two of the Atlantic Division’s top three teams in check already this week, the Habs will now try to do the same to the third, as they host the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs to end a long homestand.
Tale of the Tape
|45.9% (26th)||Scoring-chances-for %||56.2% (3rd)|
|2.52 (32nd)||Goals per game||3.65 (3rd)|
|3.77 (32nd)||Goals against per game||3.02 (17th)|
|13.9% (30th)||PP%||28.3% (1st)|
|74.8% (28th)||PK%||84.4% (5th)|
Toronto’s losses have been mounting since the All-Star break, and those have rarely been by just one goal. Montreal has a record of 9-8-3 since the showcase in Las Vegas, the Maple Leafs have a slightly better 11-8-2 mark, with an NHL-worst 79 goals allowed in that timeframe.
The Canadiens contributed to those struggles when they handled the Maple Leafs 5-2 on February 21, really dialing up the narrative on Toronto’s goaltending not being good enough to keep the team on the list of contenders. The Leafs have turned to prospect Erik Kallgren to plug the leaks, and he’s been doing well enough so far with a 2-1-1 record, but did give up five goals in his third NHL start on March 19. He’s the one who got the tap from head coach Sheldon Keefe for tonight’s game knowing how much the Canadiens have improved under Martin St. Louis.
It’s been critical for Toronto that the offence has covered the defensive issues, netting 79 goals of their own finish even in goal differential during that time. Mitch Marner has been leading the way in that department, taking advantage of Auston Matthews being barred for a couple of games after a cross-check to the head of Rasmus Dahlin to hold a three-point edge over the 21-game stretch.
Montreal’s main storyline heading into tonight’s game is, yet again, about injuries. Jonathan Drouin has been placed on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury, this in addition to isolating due to COVID-19. Brendan Gallagher will also miss about another week with a lower-body injury, and that was the vague diagnosis for Jeff Petry after Thursday’s game as well. who played just over 13 minutes before heading to the trainers’ room. The team didn’t provide an update on him among those other announcements on Friday, so perhaps that means he’s good to play tonight.
It’s a testament to Alexander Romanov’s play that it was the sophomore defenceman St. Louis called upon to fill in for Petry. Romanov led all blue-liners with nearly 23 minutes of action, and that with zero seconds of time on the power play. He found a way to contribute to the offence regardless, launching the shot that Jake Evans tipped into the net in the second period.
It was his 12th point of the season, and fifth of the last seven games. His offence may be quieter than his timely shot blocks and booming hits, but it is developing nicely at the tail end of the season, and it’s a great use of these final matches to allow him to explore that aspect of his game, all the while continuing to impress in defensive duties.