How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet East/Ontario/Pacific (English) TVA Sports (French)
In the United States: NHL Network
It’s back to the drawing board for the Montreal Canadiens, and it seems that every aspect of their game may need a tweak or two ahead of their next game.
If there is any way to salvage what can only be described as an abysmal season at best, the Canadiens know that it certainly won’t come easy as they welcome the surging Toronto Maple Leafs to the Bell Centre Saturday night.
Tale of the Tape
|44.6% (26th)||Scoring-chances-for %||54.6% (5th)|
|2.57 (29th)||Goals per game||3.39 (8th)|
|3.67 (28th)||Goals against per game||2.63 (3rd)|
|15.4% (31st)||PP%||24.7% (8th)|
A 6-2 loss at the hands of the visiting Florida Panthers on Thursday not only halted their mini two-game winning streak, it also was a game that got downright ugly. It wasn’t just the goal count, but three fights broke out, and there were offsetting misconducts and roughing minors dished out. Montreal heavy hitter Arber Xhekaj, who is 11th in the entire league in hits, and Florida’s Givani Smith got tangled up a few times in the contest.
Despite playing a scoreless first period, Florida’s strong power play pounced on Montreal’s weak penalty kill, lighting the lamp four times. The Panthers added one even-strength marker to make it five goals in just under 13 minutes in the second alone. The leading scorer for the Panthers, Matthew Tkachuk, led the offence with a pair of goals in the easy victory.
Florida backup goaltender Alex Lyon, who took over for an injured Sergei Bobrovsky just two minutes into the contest, conceded a couple of third-period markers to Montreal forwards Rem Pitlick and Josh Anderson, but was otherwise perfect, stopping 23 shots en route to his first victory since November 13, 2021 when he was a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The six goals against Montreal marked already the 13th time this season that Montreal has given up five or more in a game. Samuel Montembeault was on the hook for five against Thursday, in his ninth straight game. Cayden Primeau stopped six of seven in the third in relief.
It would be a bad time for the Canadiens to fall into old habits, because the Maple Leafs, a team that hasn’t made it past the first round since 2004, have been on quite a roll this season. Their well-distributed offence ranks ninth in the league at this point in the season.
Auston Matthews, who won last year’s Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals when he tallied 60, has been a bit quieter this season, and less flashy, but he still has 24 goals. His counterpart tonight, Cole Caufield, has been dazzling Montreal fans and is really coming into his own, as he has two more than Matthews with 26 on the year.
Between the pipes, it has become a split role for Toronto’s goaltenders. Two-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray, acquired from the Senators in the off-season, was touted to be the new starting goaltender. However injuries, which have plagued Murray his entire career, paved the way for Ilya Samsonov to get his chance to prove his worth. Murray and Samsonov have each played 19 games, but it’s Samsonov, who has been the hotter of the two, posting a 14-4-1 record, along with a 2.18 goals-against average, along with two shutouts.
Like the Canadiens did, the Maple Leafs played both the Winnipeg Jets and Panthers this week, but they won both. They were led by a pair of goals from Matthews versus the Jets, and then snuck a 5-4 overtime win against the Panthers on Tuesday night with another two-goal performance, this time from William Nylander, who tied the game late and then scored on an end-to-end rush to seal the victory.
Saturday’s contest between these longtime rivals will be the second meeting this season. Montreal escaped with a 4-3 victory back on October 12, which also took place in Montreal. Caufield scored a pair in that match, and Josh Anderson played hero, scoring the game-winner with only 19.2 seconds left in regulation.
One thing is for certain: Montreal does have a big test ahead facing Toronto on what promises to be an electric night at the Bell Centre. We’ll find out who takes the rematch of opening night at the rink.