As winter begins to roll in off the fleuve St. Laurent, Montreal Canadiens fans are praying that goals and wins will follow.
The Habs are trying to break their frigid 0-5 record to start the year tonight against their Original Six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. They’re also trying to reverse some frightfully bad numbers to start their 2021-22 campaign.
The statistics are, as Shaq would say, are horrawful for the Montreal Canadiens. The club have been ice-cold offensively through five games. The Habs are the only team in the NHL to average less than a goal per game (0.80). That’s kind of important in a league that doesn’t allow ties.
Want more? The Montreal Canadiens goal differential is minus-15. They’ve allowed the third most goals against in the league despite a solid start from goaltender Jake Allen. The club have surrendered the sixth-most goals per game. Despite scoring in their last game against Carolina, only the Vegas Golden Knights power-play has been less effective. The penalty-kill is tied with the Winnipeg Jets for next-to-last in the NHL.
Things can’t get much worse, right? RIGHT???
— Jon Still (@Imstilljon) October 23, 2021
Wronged by the Red Wings
Recent history suggests that the Montreal Canadiens will be facing one of their bogey teams in the Red Wings. The last time these two teams met in the 2019-20 season, Detroit were in the throes of one of the worst seasons in recent memory. The Red Wings were a league worst 17-49-5 before the pandemic shut everything down. 23 percent of those wins were against the Montreal Canadiens. One of the main reasons why the Habs looked destined to miss the playoffs again was four straight losses to Detroit. The bubble saved them and the rest is history.
There are no saviours outside the Habs room according to head coach Dominique Ducharme. Only haters.
“Anyone can bury us right now,” a visibly frustrated Ducharme told reporters yesterday. “We don’t care. Seriously, we don’t care. We’re going to take care of business and we’re going to finish where we deserve to finish. Every night we have 20 guys in the lineup so we have to find a way as a group. Maybe some guys are learning and processing that they need to bring a little bit more in different aspects. In leadership or the way they play. Whatever. But we’ll get through and we’ll do it the right way.”
Ducharme confirmed that defenceman Sami Niku will make his Montreal Canadiens debut. He’ll skate next to Brett Kulak tonight and will also run the first wave of the power-play. Chris Wideman will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Jake Allen will be between the pipes.
Here are the expected lines for the Montreal Canadiens tonight against the Red Wings
Hoffman – Suzuki – Gallagher
Drouin – Dvorak – Anderson
Toffoli – Perreault – Caufield
Lehkonen – Evans – Armia
Chiarot – Petry
Niku – Kulak
Romanov – Savard
Stevie Y rubbing off on Larkin?
The Red Wings are 2-1-1 on the season and are coming off a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames Thursday night.
When Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman was a player, legendary Montreal Canadiens and Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman famously asked his captain to change his game.
“I mentioned to him his stats would go down, but hopefully the team would be better,” Bowman told NHL.com in 2009 about asking Stevie Y to go from offensive dynamo to two-way player. “He was the reason that he did better because he understood what it took and he wanted to be a winner.”
The rest is history. The Red Wings won four Cups during Yzerman’s tenure as captain, including back-to-back Cups in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
Fast forward 12 years after that interview and maybe Stevie Y has had a similar conversation with his captain Dylan Larkin. Larkin has brought some serious grit and toughness to his game early on including getting suspended for a game for punching Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph after being hit from behind. He has 12 penalty minutes through three games to go along with three points.
“We didn’t have our legs today,” Larkin told reporters after their shutout loss to the Flames. “We didn’t have that emotion that we’ve played with. You’re not going to have have it every night in the National Hockey League. It’s 82 games, it’s hard but when we don’t have our legs and our emotion we’ve got to find a way to simplify and play a better hockey game.”
One of those players who elevates the energy level for his teammates won’t play tonight. Forward Tyler Bertuzzi won’t play in Canada this season after refusing to get the COVID vaccine. Good news for the Habs as he has been one of Detroit’s best players early on with six points in four games.
Habs fans will get the chance to get their first look at some of the Red Wings high-profile young talent. 2019 6th overall pick defenceman Moritz Seider and 2020 4th overall pick winger Lucas Raymond will both take their Bell Centre bows tonight.
Thomas Greiss is expected to get the start in goal.
Here are the projected lines for the Detroit Red Wings tonight
Fabri – Larkin – Raymond
Namestnikov – Suter – Zadina
Smith – Rasmussen – Erne
Rowney – Stephens – Gagner
Dekeyser – Hronek
Leddy – Seider
Staal – Lindstrom
Injuries: Winger Jakub Vrana is expected to be out until February after undergoing shoulder surgery.
- It will be the 598th meeting all-time for two of the most storied franchises in the sport. The Montreal Canadiens have the historic winning record of 290-207-96-4 against Detroit.
- Brendan Gallagher has been pretty, pretty, pretty good against the Red Wings. He has 20 points in 23 career games.
- Detroit centreman Mitchell Stepherns will play his 50th NHL game