Montreal Canadiens vs. Colorado Avalanche
How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EDT / 4:30 PM PDT
In Canada: Sportsnet East (English)
In the Canadiens region: RDS (French)
In the U.S.: NHL Network
In the Avalanche region: Altitude
Streaming: ESPN+, RDS Direct, Sportsnet Now
For the first time in several games, the Canadiens just didn’t have the usual energy on Saturday that they’d shown over the past couple of weeks. The New Jersey Devils had their number in game 66, earning a 3-1 win for their 25th road victory of the season.
Montreal did have its opportunities, leading in high-danger chances 14-11 at the end of the night, but many of their best looks went off the post or just wide of the target. Denis Gurianov was the only one to solve goaltender Akira Schmid, converting one of those quality chances for his second goal with the team to make it a 2-1 game, but former Hab Tomas Tatar sealed the game seconds after an ill-timed goalie pull late in the contest.
The roster of tonight’s visiting team, the Colorado Avalanche features a few more former members of the team. Lars Eller was added at the deadline, and the game will also be the first one back at the Bell Centre for the reigning Stanley Cup champion’s prized acquisition one year ago, Artturi Lehkonen.
Tale of the Tape
|43.9% (28th)||Scoring-chances-for %||52.4% (11th)|
|2.67 (28th)||Goals per game||3.16 (16th)|
|3.55 (25th)||Goals against per game||2.78 (9th)|
|15.7% (31st)||PP%||23.2% (8th)|
|73.9% (29th)||PK%||79.3% (17th)|
Lehkonen was a proven playoff performer even before he headed to Montreal for his first NHL game, setting a scoring record for Frölunda in the 2016 SHL playoffs. He brought that clutch performance to Montreal with four points in six post-season games in his rookie year, and had the goal that sent the Canadiens to the championship final in 2021. He took that one major step further when, after his goal secured a second consecutive Clarence Campbell Bowl for his team, he had the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Final to hoist his first Stanley Cup.
This year, Lehkonen has played 61 games on a team that, like Montreal, has dealt with a significant number of injuries. He’s currently one goal behind the career high he set last year with 13 in Montreal and a further six with Colorado, and ranks fourth on the Avalanche with 46 points. He already has one goal versus the team that drafted him, a power-play marker when the Canadiens travelled to Denver on December 21.
The Canadiens would love to show off the improved form of Justin Barron, the main piece they got in return for Lehkonen, but the last status report had him sporting a no-contact jersey at an optional skate in Montreal. The defenceman is still recovering from a shoulder injury sustained on March 2 versus Los Angeles, though is clearly nearing a return.
It’s likely there will be no changes to Saturday’s lineup, so it will be up to the same skaters to get back to the offensive level they had been playing at. The key was having every line and defence pairing keeping the pressure on some good teams, but in the last game that effort slipped for the top-six lines, and while the bottom six has been impressive, it doesn’t have the ability to carry games on its own.
These final 16 games are all about the players who’ve earned spots due to injury making their cases for next year. Jesse Ylönen has a full set of talents and has been on the top line where he can showcase them, but needs to show more confidence and consistency in those abilities to prove his true potential. Gurianov displayed the incredible shot he possesses versus New Jersey, but needs to present a lot more to prove he’s worth a fairly expensive qualifying offer (or a cheaper deal before it gets to that point). Then there are pending unrestricted free agents Chris Tierney and Alex Belzile playing for another NHL salary for the 2023-24 season. With their futures on the line it’s understandable why the lesser lights have been shining the brightest, and perhaps we should expect no different tonight.