Montreal Canadiens at Carolina Hurricanes
7 p.m., PNC Arena
TV: Sports South, TSN-Habs
Carolina will be coming into tonight's game against the Canadiens in a similar situation to the last time they took on Montreal. If you don't remember (it's probably better if you don't anyway), the Canes were riding a three-game win streak head into that game but suffered a barrage of injuries over the span of four days and ended up getting shut out 3-0 by the Habs. This time, Carolina will be riding a four game win streak but are still missing quite a few players from their lineup including goaltender Cam Ward.
The injuries didn't seem to stop them from taking care of the Sabres on Tuesday night, but the Canes will be taking on a much better team this evening in the Canadiens. Many of the problems that were surrounding the Habs last season appear to be gone as the Habs are currently sitting atop of the Eastern Conference and have won six of their last 10 games.
Carolina has been outshot and outchanced in three of the four games they've won, but they have also established early leads in all of those games so I'm not ready to say that it is a problem just yet. However, it is worth noting that three of their last four wins came against bad teams in Florida and Buffalo, so tonight's game will be a much tougher test. Carolina is still pretty banged up, but most of the team's best skaters healthy, so I think their performance against Montreal will give us an idea of how good they are/can be.
Know Your Opponent
Montreal looks to be a pretty good team this year. They've been controlling play at even strength well, are getting good goaltending and both of their special teams units are in the top-10 in terms of shot creation & suppression respectively. The Canadiens kind of took people by surprise after how bad they were last year, but they had a fairly decent team that ran into injury problems and bad luck for the first half of last season. Their play then took a nose-dive after Randy Cunneyworth took over for Jacques Martin and they fell into draft lottery territory. Now that most of their players are healthy again, things have been much better for the Canadiens and they appear to be in a good position to at least make the playoffs this season.
Tlusty - E. Staal - Semin
Dwyer - J. Staal - Skinner
Wallace - Jokinen - Bowman
Sutter - Welsh - Westgarth
Harrison - Faulk
Gleason - Corvo
Sanguinetti - McBain
Out: Nash (illness, GTD), Pitkanen, Brent, Ward, LaRose, Ruutu
Pacioretty - Desharnais - Gallagher
Prust - Plekanec - Ryder
Galchenyuk - Eller - Gionta
Moen - White - Armstrong
Markov - Emelin
Weber - Subban
Gorges - Bouillon
Out: Kaberle, Bourque, Diaz
Five Things to Watch For
- Remember how Max Pacioretty scored on Cam Ward on that dribbling shot from center ice for his first goal of the season? Well, he has scored seven more goals since then and has been a beast at driving possession along with Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais. I would expect Muller to get Faulk/Harrison and Jordan Staal's line out against this unit as often as he can as they are by far the most dangerous line Montreal has to offer. They've been playing well all season, a few of them were just running cold on shooting percentage but that eventually regressed and now they appear to be firing on all cylinders now. Kind of like another first line we may know.
- Montreal's penalty kill has done a fantastic job at preventing shots, but they rank only 15th in the NHL in penalty kill percentage because neither Carey Price or Carey Budaj have been able to stop much when their team is down a man. PK save percentage has shown to be very random over the years, so I would expect these two to get better (especially Price), but they appear to be vulnerable now so this could be a chance for Carolina's powerplay to get things going a little.
- Word is that Riley Nash will be a game-time decision tonight due to having flu-like symptoms and if he can't go, then Patrick Dwyer will be returned to the second line. It will be tough to break up this third line, but returning Dwyer to the top-six was probably the right move. He has performed the strongest out of all the candidates for this spot and is a great fit with Staal and Skinner. Dwyer can skate well, is responsible defensively and his puck-handling is pretty underrated. I'd expect the second line to have a good performance if he stays on this unit.
- I don't really see a favorable match for Carolina against any of Montreal's lines since they seem to have things spread out all over the place. We'll have to see what happens with Jordan Staal matched up against Desharnais, but I think that Eric Staal's line against Plekanec's could go either way. His linemates aren't exactly golden, but Pleks has been very good at driving the play forward against tough competition this year so he may pose an interesting matchup for Carolina's first line. I'm not sure how much Prust will drag down this line, though.
- Carolina's penalty kill has gotten a lot better after it's abysmal start to the year, as they've successfully killed off 88% of their penalties in the last 11 games. However, they are still among one of the worst teams in the league in shot prevention, which is a cause for concern with Justin Peters in net. Over his career, Peters has had trouble with coming up with saves on the penalty kill and this could be an issue if the Hurricanes continue to allow shots and chances while playing shorthanded. The Habs are going to be without one of their key puck-moving defensemen tonight in Raphael Diaz, but they still have Markov and Subban, which makes their powerplay very dangerous.
Carolina's success against the Northeast Division has been well-documented this year as they are 7-2-0 against the division but one of their two losses are against these Montreal Canadiens, so it will be nice for them to get a win tonight. It will not only pad their lead in the Southeast, but defeating one of the top teams in the conference does a lot for the team and fan's morale which is never a bad thing.