The Montreal Canadiens are rolling into New England and visiting the Boston Bruins, who themselves are on a roll. The Habs are winning too, but there have been some recent issues, since everyone knows that they are nothing with their goalie, Carey Price. It was all too clear last week when they lost 10-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets with their back-up goalie, Al Montoya in net.
The Bruins on the other hand are a more balanced team, they are one of Montreal’s most heated archrivals, and have won four of their last five games. In doing so, they’ve improved their standing in the Atlantic division and gained some confidence. Outside a few bad games against the red-hot New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins have been just about unbeatable for a week and a half in the Eastern conference.
Unlike the Habs, Boston’s wins have come on the back of solid possession play, a strong defence, and a healthy Tuukka Rask in net. The Bruins’ goalie sits just behind his Montreal foe in even strength save percentage, and has stopped just under 96% of the shots that hit him. The Bruins defense have kept his workload small, as the B’s are just outside the league’s top five teams when it comes to suppressing and blocking shot attempts.
But Boston’s offence on the other hand has been below average, and seems one-dimensional. If the Bruins did score a beauty it’s probably because Brad Marchand was somehow behind it. The winger has continued his run of success from the World Cup of Hockey in September, and has 14 points in 12 games to show for his efforst. Boston’s other offensive weapon is David Pastrnak, the highly-skilled 20-year-old who’s outsmarted and outmatched every defenceman he’s faced this year outside of Stephane Quintal.
Their powerplay which was so lethal last year has failed them this season and is barely functioning. It’s vulnerable to quick counter-attacks and turn-overs. But their strong puck movement that made the Bruins’ man advantage so successful last year ago is still there, it’s just not capitalizing. The goals haven’t been going in easy, but Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci can’t be held down forever, whether they are up a man or playing at even strength. They will break out. And with Rask dominating in net, it gives the players a chance to wake up. Bruins coach Claude Julien is depending on his snipers to score more, and use less time to get warmed up.
At the opposite end of the ice, Habs coach Michel Therrien like usual is depending on Carey Price to be stellar and a life saver. For the last three games now, everything in front of the Habs’ crease has been a mess, the defense has played confused and blind, and only through Price’s heroics have the Canadiens been able to beat their recent opponents.
Ask a fan they’ll be hard pressed to remember the last time Montreal set up a high quality scoring chance based on sustained offensive zone time. Instead they do most of their damage in transition. And that’s playing with fire. Daniel Carr and Brendan Gallagher will have to focus more attention on the puck can help to turn things around.
Whatever happens tonight, the Habs got to know that it’s no longer 2015-16, and they can’t sit atop their division with loads of time to find their game. So you can expect the manic quality that characterized games between the Canadiens and Bruins to be in full effect again since these contests still mean something more than points. The Habs know another sloppy loss tonight would be pretty tough to take, so they’ll be tightening up their boot straps in front of their net.
They’ll have to due to the busy schedule they have, they’ll play four games over the next six nights and they face four quality teams — the Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins also have a tough schedule and will be in a back-to-back situation after playing the Sabres at home. The Bruins haven’t played well at home, but are 5-2-0 on the road. So tonight is a must win.
The Habs will need discipline since they’ve given up six power-play goals in 10 opportunities in the past two games, and their PK ranks 21st in the NHL with an 80 per cent success rate. Therrien said it’s important to stay out of the penalty box but can they? The Canadiens have faced 50 power-play opportunities. Only Calgary (58) and St. Louis (52) have been short-handed more times.
Their power-play drought has to come to a stop, since instead of drawing a lot of power plays they are taking penalties. They’ve only had the man advantage 38 times, which is average in the league. They scored a power-play goal in seven of their first nine games, but are 0-for-7 in the past three games. And they haven’t had a good scoring chance during that drought.
Carey Price is their equalizer, and he’s undefeated in seven starts this season, and will surely be in goal tonight, but Boston might have a new face between the pipes. Julien said he doesn’t want to ride his No. 1 guy too hard since he played Monday. So there is speculation that Zane McIntyre will suit up against Montreal for the first time in his career. That’s probably a good bet because Rask has a 5-15-3 record against the Canadiens, so fresh blood should be good. But it might be good for the Habs too, if they can get a few early goals on the netminder, it might be enough to seal the game.