Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens
7:30 p.m, Bell Centre
TV: FS-Carolinas, NHL Network, TSN-Habs, RDS
The Hurricanes and Canadiens might be based in different countries but they have more similarities than you think They both are coming into this game on three-game win streaks and currently have similar record with the Canadiens being only one win better than the Hurricanes at 9-4-1. Both teams have been playing very well as of late, but the Hurricanes will be missing four players from their lineup and are far from 100% right now. They managed to play a very strong game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night with defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason out but tonight's game will be a much bigger challenge as they'll have to make due without these two along with Jeff Skinner and Tim Brent.
Basically, the Hurricanes will have to find a way to win tonight without two of their top-four defensemen, a top-six player who is also one of their best scorers and one of their main contributors on both special teams units. All teams have to go through injuries and it's often the teams with depth who succeed and the Hurricanes organizational depth will be put to a very tough test if their injured players are out for longer than expected. We've talked a lot about how well some of the guys in Charlotte are playing and how they didn't make the team due to the numbers game. Well, here is their chance to step up and show everyone what they've got. The circumstances are far from ideal, but if anything tonight's game should provide a good chance to see some of the Canes younger talent. Getting a win would be nice, too but the deck isn't stacked in their favor right now.
Know Your Opponent: Montreal Canadiens
The Habs came roaring out of the gates this season by winning six of their first eight games, cooled off a little after that but they are back on the upswing now with three consecutive wins. A lot of people attributed Montreal's hot start to good luck, as they had a very high PDO at one point boosted by a strong even strength shooting percentage. That has come back down to Earth since then but the team's 5v5 save percentage is still very high at .936. Even with that, I think calling Montreal's strong start only smoke & mirrors is a little unfair because they've been a pretty good team at even strength this year, controlling 51.1% of the overall corsi events.
Not much was expected out of this club since they are coming off a terrible season and are adjusting to a new head coach along with a new general manager but they've managed to do pretty well for themselves thus far. Much of their success can be credited to the strong goaltending of Carey Price, who will not be playing tonight, but Montreal's been a pretty sound defensive team overall. They've allowed the tenth fewest even strength shots per 60 minutes in the league and received a boost a couple weeks ago when training camp holdout PK Subban signed a new contract and returned to the lineup. Having him along with a healthy Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz on their blue-line makes their powerplay very dangerous, especially against a Hurricanes PK that has allowed at leat one goal in three consecutive games. Montreal probably isn't a top team in the Eastern Conference but they should be good enough to stay in playoff contention.
Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Jokinen – J. Staal – Dwyer
Wallace – Nash – LaRose
Bowman – Nash – Nodl
Harrison – Faulk
McBain – Corvo
Jordan – Sanguinetti
Out: Gleason, Pitkanen, Brent, Skinner, Westgarth
Gionta – Plekanec – Bourque
Prust – Galchenyuk – Cole
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Eller
Moen – White – Armstrong
Gorges – Diaz
Subban – Bouillon
Emelin – Markov
Out: Gallagher, Weber, Kaberle
Five Things to Watch For
- Do not be fooled by the poor counting stats of David Desharnais, Erik Cole or Max Pacioretty. Neither have been able to find the back of the net much this season, but they've been very good at driving the play forward and are still capable of creating a lot of offense. Cole went through a similar drought in the early part of last season before catching fire in the second half. It wouldn't shock me if this season went the same way. They might be able to expose a favorable matchup with Jordan Staal's line likely going up against Tomas Plekanec and the Hurricanes forward corps having a ton of injuries.
- Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison are going to log some big minutes. Again. I'm hoping that McBain and Corvo can pitch in a little, but the former two are still going to play all of the tough matchups tonight and the Canes might run into some trouble if they can't slow down Plekanec's line. Even if they do, one of Montreal's other top three lines might be able to take advantage of the Canes defensive corps given the shape it's in right now. With this game being on the road, I'm not sure if they can dominate territorial play to off-set their defensive issues like they did against the Maple Leafs last Thursday.
- Jussi Jokinen will be playing with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer tonight and believe it or not, I actually like this move. Jokinen has been very bad this season, but he is very underrated defensively and has actually performed well on the penalty kill. This could be a good tough-minutes line for the Hurricanes in the short-term and who knows? Maybe playing with someone like Jordan Staal can help Jokinen get on the board at even strength.
- If there is one area where Montreal is struggling, it's that a few of their depth forwards have been black holes in terms of possession. Prust, Moen and Eller have been getting nailed into their own zone for most of this year and the Hurricanes might be able to expose it. Carolina's third line hasn't been much better and they are going to be relying on a few AHL-ers in their depth roles today, so I'm not sure what to expect here. The Habs are also missing one of their top young players in Brendan Gallagher, who suffered a concussion in their game against the Flyers two days ago. I'm not sure who will be filling in for him, but Prust was up on the second line in his place for the rest of that game. The Hurricanes would be okay with that continuing but I doubt that will be the case.
- If there was ever a game for the Hurricanes to stay out of the box, this might be the most important one. Montreal's powerplay is on the edge of the top 10 in success rate and they have a lot of big names on their defense corps who can make it very dangerous. In fact, their defense has been doing most of their contributing on their powerplay as Subban has accumulated four of his six points there and all of Markov's ten points have also come with the man advantage. The Hurricanes are also missing three of their main penalty killers in Brent, Gleason and Pitkanen so they are strained there as it is. I've mentioned in the past that penalties are unavoidable in some cases but Carolina really needs to stay disciplined tonight.
With Kirk Muller coaching the team, it's always a special time when the Hurricanes visit Montreal but this game could be very, very ugly given the lineup the Hurricanes are dressing. This is going to be one of those games where fans will take any kind of win they can get, similar to the game against Ottawa last week. The Hurricanes didn't play their best that night but they managed to stay in it and pull out a win in the end. It's doubtful that the Hurricanes will dress a lineup similar to this again, so if the Hurricanes can pull out an ugly win or a great effort then I'm sure many will be satisfied.