Montreal Canadiens @ Tampa Bay Lightning
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Lightning region: Bally Sports Sun X
Streaming: ESPN+, Sportsnet Now
It was a fun start to Thursday’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers, with nearly every shot going into the net in the opening half of the first period, and that was good entertainment for anyone not rooting for a win (or the goaltenders). But the Panthers kept scoring as the Habs’ shooting luck dried up, and in the end it was another sizable margin of victory for the Panthers in this 2022-23 season, with the score in the series now 22-9 for Florida with one game remaining.
The Canadiens now wrap up a three-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which isn’t much of a reprieve as the Habs have scored a total of two goals in the opening two games of that series.
Tale of the Tape
|43.5% (30th)||Scoring-chances-for %||53.7% (5th)|
|2.77 (28th)||Goals per game||3.45 (7th)|
|3.70 (28th)||Goals against per game||3.01 (15th)|
|16.3% (30th)||PP%||25.5% (3rd)|
|72.5% (30th)||PK%||79.8% (15th)|
Kaiden Guhle has factored into both goals scored, setting up Nick Suzuki in the first game and then scoring the only goal Montreal managed on December 28, coming late in a 4-1 loss. The game after that performance, Guhle was injured versus the Panthers, and now he may have suffered the same fate on Thursday, leaving the ice on a couple of occasions after appearing to feel some pain in his knee. He played a regular shift through the game despite those departures, but we’ve seen that story unfold for a few players who were later added to the injured list, and he wasn’t on the ice with the Canadiens yesterday morning, taking what the team calls a “therapy day.”
He hasn’t looked as composed on this road trip as we’d gotten used to from him, but the whole purpose of these final games is to let the young players figure out how to handle difficult situations and take those lessons into next year. So far his rookie season has consisted of just 44 games, so it would be best for his development if he were healthy enough to play out the rest of this campaign.
The blue line as a whole has abandoned all thought of defensive play, which doesn’t matter much at this stage of the season when amassing losses is a benefit to draft position, but it is something that Martin St-Louis will have to figure out before October. The good news is that many of the young defencemen on the roster had more of a defensive focus in their development years. Figuring out an offensive system for them may have been the toughest part of their NHL adjustment, so reining them in somewhat for more defensive commitment shouldn’t be too difficult a task.
Tampa Bay has had to figure out its own defensive issues recently. Not only did they lose five games in a row from February 26 to March 5, allowing 27 goals in that span, four of those losses came to teams chasing them in the standings, and two were to division opponents Florida and Buffalo. For a brief moment there was some doubt about their spot as a seeded playoff team, which they’ve since addressed by taking nine of the last 12 points available to them.
With that, they still have the possibility of finishing as the second seed in the Atlantic Division and getting home-ice advantage in a playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That would be a significant advantage as the Lightning have a record of 24-6-5 at Amalie Arena, but are just a game above .500 on the road. That alone should be all the motivation they need to perform well in their final 13 games.
Helping the turnaround is Mikhail Sergachev, who has nine points over the last six games, including four multi-assist contests, tying Nikita Kucherov for the lead over this resurgent stretch. Five of those points have come on the power play, and if the Canadiens are going to start addressing their defensive issues, using tonight as a test for their penalty kill against the third-best man advantage would be a perfect place to start.
Sergachev’s trade for Jonathan Drouin has to remain a story for this contest because Drouin missed a team meeting yesterday and has been barred from participating in this match. He has maintained his productive form, at least when it comes to secondary assists, with four of them in his last three games. Montreal will be missing some its offence, and the press-box contingent of Canadiens players will grow by one for this contest.