The future of Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme is on the line when the team takes on the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.
The same Pens team that smacked down the Habs to the tune of 6-0 last week.
Not all losses are created equal. In fact, the club have been beaten in a more emphatic fashion several times this year.
But to have been dominated for forty minutes by the perpetually rebuilding Buffalo Sabres last night? Who were themselves on a four-game losing skid?
That just hits different.
Putting the cards on the table
“Good first period, we’re in the game. And then our second period we just got outworked,” said a dumbfounded Josh Anderson after their loss in upstate New York last night. “That’s all we’ve been talking about this year. I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t know what to say. I really don’t.”
The message is not getting through. To a man, the players commit the same mistakes over and over again. They’re a despondent, toothless bunch that have run out of answers. And they are now 5-15-2 on the season. The 12 points they’ve accrued through their first 22 games is the least amount in franchise history.
Unfortunately, you can’t fire the players. This is the business Ducharme has chosen.
Anderson was the Montreal Canadiens best player last night and he called out his fellow veterans on the team after their horrific 4-1 loss to the Sabres. “I just think we have to be better,” admitted the big winger. “You’ve got young guys coming up, younger guys on the team. They look up to us. And they are the ones working, who are competing. I’m not saying it’s everybody but, including myself too, the consistency is not there.”
Losing the veterans on the team is a major red flag. But some of Ducharme’s coaching decisions this year and specifically last night were baffling. Chief among them was choosing not to use defencemen Sami Niku or Mattias Norlinder on a four minute power-play in the second period. The coach opted to go with the struggling Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot on the second unit.
The result? No scoring chances and one shot on goal. But the question is pretty straightforward. If Norlinder and Niku are in the lineup and aren’t playing on the man advantage, then why have them play at all?
Ducharme is set to meet the media just before 5 o’clock this afternoon to confirm his lineup. If the Canadiens suffer another lopsided loss and run their road record to 1-10-1 on the season, it could be for the last time.
Here’s how the Montreal Canadiens could line up against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight
Jonathan Drouin – Nick Suzuki – Cole Caufield
Tyler Toffoli – Christian Dvorak – Josh Anderson
Artturi Lehkonen – Jake Evans – Brendan Gallagher
Michael Pezzetta – Ryan Poehling – Joel Armia
Ben Chiarot – Jeff Petry
Mattias Norlinder – David Savard
Alexander Romanov – Chris Wideman
The monster the Habs created
Bad news for the Montreal Canadiens. Their 6-0 loss to the Penguins on Nov.18th created one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Since that victory Pittsburgh have yet to lose. They are riding a five-game winning streak and are rising up the Metropolitan Division standings.
The only reprieve for the visitors tonight? It appears they won’t have to face the sparkling Tristan Jarry in nets, fresh off his 1-0 shutout performance over the Islanders last night. Jarry has been simply sensational this season and the stats show it. In 17 starts, he has a 1.91 goals-against average and a terrific .936 save percentage.
Tonight’s starter on the other hand, backup Casey Desmith, has a Samuel Montembeault-esque stat line that could be encouraging for folks who want to bet the over. He has a bloated 4.71 GAA and an .856 save percentage.
This has trap game written all over it from a Penguins perspective. But that would require the Habs being able to actually lay some traps. Which they have been incapable of doing in two thirds of their games this season.
Whatever Ducharme plans to do with his lines and pairings tonight, don’t expect any offence on special teams. The Penguins have been abysmal on the power-play, ranking 30th in the league. In fairness, Danton Heinen scored on the man-advantage the last time these two teams met.
But from a Habs perspective, a power-play goal would be like a solar eclipse, Halley’s comet and the K-T extinction rolled into one. Pittsburgh have the league’s best penalty-kill while the Canadiens continue to spin their wheels in 28th spot at a conversion rate of 13.6 percent.
Here’s how the Pittsburgh Penguins are expected to line up against the Montreal Canadiens tonight per Puckpedia
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker – Jeff Carter – Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese – Teddy Blueger – Brock McGinn
Danton Heinen – Brian Boyle – Dominic Simon
Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
Marcus Petersson – John Marino
Mike Matheson – Chad Ruhwedel
The total goals are set at 5.5 for tonight’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins. Bet the over. Both teams are on the second game of a back-to-back and both Jake Allen and Casey DeSmith have sub .900 save percentages.
But the best bet tonight is Sidney Crosby. The Cole Harbour native and childhood Habs fan is a Canadiens killer with 53 points in 41 career games against the tricolore. Expect him to have at least two points tonight at spreads.ca.
- Jake Guentzel is on a career-long eight-game points streak (five goals, four assists, nine points). That’s tied with Rangers forward Ryan Strome for the longest active streak in the league
- The Penguins have points in 10 of their last 12 games against the Habs with a record of 9-2-1
- In their last 12 games Pittsburgh have scored four or more goals against the Canadiens eight times
- Brendan Gallagher will play the 604th game of his career. That will tie him with Ryan Walter for 39th all-time on the Habs games played list