If you were to read reports and headlines from across the city of Montreal over the last few days, you would be convinced that the Canadiens were the worst team in the NHL.
They have an overpaid second-line center who is taking a lot of heat for his lack of production. They have a head coach who was uncharacteristically snippy and sarcastic with the media. They have yet to find a suitable winger, through 21 games, on their second line. They have a starting goaltender who looks like he will get voted into the All-Star game, but whom fans feel will be better served by staying at home. And all of these problems and complaints are surfacing while the Canadiens sit atop the Northeast Division with 27 points in 21 games.
Moreover, the Canadiens have the best penalty kill in the league (90.8 percent), they are second overall for fewest 5-on-5 goals against (30 goals for a 2.00 GAA) and have a starting goaltender who has a 2.05 GAA (fifth overall), a .932 save percentage (fifth overall), four shutouts (tied for first overall) and 12 wins in 20 games (tied for first overall).
So maybe things are not all bad after all.
The Habs, still in the wake of their 3-2 collapse against the Flyers, were worked hard by Coach Martin at practice yesterday. Despite calls by many—myself included—for Scott Gomez to be dropped to the third line, he was still at center on the second line with Travis Moen.
Carey Price will get his 21st start of the season and with back-to-back games on Friday against the Thrashers and Saturday against the Sabres, you'd have to think that we would soon be seeing Alex Auld in the net.
The Kings look like they will be countering with Quebec native, Jonathan Bernier.
Los Angeles, one of the top teams in the West, has a young, speedy team that is sure to act as an excellent yardstick for the Habs. If the Canadiens want to be contenders, they must be able to at least challenge, if not beat, teams like the Kings.
The Kings, who are 13-6-0 with 26 points, have an almost identical record to the Canadiens. Also like the Habs, the Kings have struggled to get their power play going and at 14.8 percent efficiency are 24th in the league—the Habs are 22nd in the league at 15.2 percent. The Kings penalty kill is a respectable sixth overall at 86.9 percent efficiency so it looks like the special teams are a wash.
If there is one thing we have seen from the veteran core of the Canadiens, it is that they tend to respond well to adversity. As such, I would expect a full 60-minute effort from the home boys tonight.
A few players to keep your eyes on tonight, since we don't get to see them very often, are Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. These are two incredibly skilled young players who are a treat to watch.
The puck drops at 7:30 pm-ish.
UPDATE - 1:27 pm EST: According to Habs Inside/Out, Yannick Weber will be a healthy scratch and Mathieu Darche will be back in the lineup playing alongside Jeff Halpern and Benoit Pouliot.
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