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Canadiens vs. Lightning: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Game 12: Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Lightning region: Bally Sports Sun
Streaming: ESPN+, TSN+, RDS

The Canadiens started off their road trip very well with what Martin St-Louis claimed was the best game he’s seen his team play. But after a good opening 20 minutes in Arizona three days later, the Canadiens proceeded to play five consecutive poor periods to end their road trip. What was originally shaping up to be a winning voyage ended in an 0-2-1 record, and dropped the Canadiens close to the .500 mark.

Now, Montreal has just a single win on the road this season, which matches the results of tonight’s visitor to the Bell Centre, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Floridian club should have earned its second victory away from Amalie Arena after getting out to a 4-1 lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, but the Leafs turned that trope around on their opponent, mounting a comeback to get the win in overtime, and sending their adversary to a road record of 1-3-2.

Montreal and Tampa Bay now hold very similar overall results about a month into the season, making up with their play on home ice what they’ve given up on other teams’ rinks. If the Canadiens are going to make a surprise run to the post-season, it could very well be the Lightning they have to knock out of the picture to get there.

Canadiens Statistics Lightning
5-4-2 Record 5-3-4
48.0% (21st) Scoring-chances-for % 52.9% (10th)
2.91 (21st) Goals per game 3.75 (7th)
3.36 (20th) Goals against per game 3.50 (28th)
20.5% (15th) PP% 33.3% (2nd)
75.0% (23rd) PK% 87.9% (6th)
1-3-0 Head-to-Head Record (22-23) 3-1-0

It’s a tall task, and one that doesn’t favour a rebuilding team missing its shutdown centre, But the Lightning aren’t the juggernaut they once were. The culprit for their difficult start isn’t their offence. That part, run by an enviable complement of forward talent, still ranks among the best teams in the league, and nine points in two games have Nikita Kucherov sitting near the top of the Art Ross race. The issue for them has been defensive play, tying with the Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes for the most goals surrendered in the Eastern Conference.

Out with an injury, Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t been covering up for the defensive lapses the team has carried for a few seasons now. Jonas Johansson has been doing well while thrust into the number-one role, just not doing so at the elite level required to restore the club’s standing as a top team.

How bad has the defence been? Looking at expected goals against, which measures the quality of shots faced, the Lightning rank ninth-worst, just a few positions better than a Canadiens team that has lost David Savard, missed Kaiden Guhle for four games, and currently has Johnny Kovacevic and Mike Matheson struggling with the fundamentals of the position. Unless Jon Cooper is desperate to get the team’s road play sorted out, the Lightning won’t have Johansson absorbing the shots that get through the defence, but Matt Tomkins, who has allowed seven goals in his first two NHL games played this season. Tomkins has a .600 save percentage on high-danger chances, which is good news for a Canadiens team that ranks ninth in the league in creating them.

The best way Montreal can approach the game is by committing to a defensive performance like they had in Las Vegas, not giving the Lightning forwards room to make skilled plays. For this game and the 70 that will remain after tonight, a lot of that hinges on getting Matheson on his game. It’s been reported that he’s dealing with an injury, but he’s still playing well over 20 minutes per game and trusted in offensive situations. He’s been caught too often out of position recently, and a more simplified approach might be what he and the team need to make a positive impact — or at least less of a negative one.

Tonight’s game is the first of seven over a 12-day span for Montreal, one of the busiest stretches of the season. Poor efforts plucked two potential wins out of their grasp last week, and they’ll need that type of play to come to an end before they find themselves a long way out of the post-season picture in two weeks’ time.