For the final time in the 2011-12 NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be playing back-to-back contests. Tonight, they are in the province of Quebec to pay a visit to the Montreal Canadiens. Tomorrow, they're in Toronto at the Air Canada Center to take on the Maple Leafs. These games set up the season finale on Saturday in Winnipeg, Manitoba against the former Atlanta Thrasher franchise.
But you have to complete your journey before getting to the end, and so we focus on the bleu, blanc et rouge.
The historic Canadiens, aka Les Habitantes de Montreal, is a franchise that has fallen into complete disarray with poor performance on ice, coaching changes that have led to political rhetoric (which we elaborated on months ago), and management changes that won't be resolved until sometime this off-season.
Pierre Gauthier was fired as General Manager of Les Habs, and former GM Bob Gainey was sent packing from his advisor role with the club as well. This compliments the December firing of Candiens head coach Jacques Martin, and the knee-jerk trade of Mike Cammalleri earlier this season. Gauthier being fired has led to speculation that leads to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Steve Yzerman stocked his coaching staff with Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens). His right-hand man is Julien BriseBois, who was GM of the Bulldogs and a Candiens front office member for years on end. Suffice it to say, BriseBois will be a candidate for the Habs GM job, as he meets the Quebecois/Francophone requirements and has the Norfolk Admirals successes to his credit.
Tonight isn't a preview of what's to come in Montreal, however. Just what can you expect?
Don't let the Habs last-in-the-East position and likely top-three draft pick position fool you, the team has it's strengths that are on par with the rest of the league. Namely the penalty kill unit. For all the challenges in Montreal, they penalty kill unit is 2nd in the NHL with a 88.4% kill-rate. That's just behind the New Jersey Devils for the league lead in the category. And while we're at it, underestimate Carey Price at your own peril. Is he all world? Maybe not, but he's not a pushover in net either.
Speaking of netminders, Sebastien Caron will get the start tonight for the Lightning. It had been stated earlier that Roloson and Caron would split these back-to-back games, but I'm surprised Caron will start the first game of the pair... But maybe I shouldn't be? After all, the Toronto Maple Leafs put up five goals on Buffalo's Ryan Miller last night (before the Sabres made a thrilling comeback to beat Toronto).
Adam Hall skated this morning with the Lightning, minus a red no-contact jersey. Is he good to go? Can't say, that'll be up to coaching. That's quite an improvement from the season-likely-over injury status that had taken Hall out of the lineup to begin with.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room is Steven Stamkos' chase of the 60-goal plateau... With three games left it's reachable. That's stating the obvious though. He's 10 goals in front of Evgeni Malkin for the league lead, and 10 points behind Malkin in the hunt for the Art Ross trophy (awarded to the player who scores the most overall points in a season).