Things can change fast in life and the Montreal Canadiens are an example of that.
The Lightning's middling start to the NHL season was below that of Les Habitants de Montreal, who seemed to be running away with the division outright. Michel Therrin's club may have had its flaws but between the effort and goaltending, Montreal was the force to be overcome in this league with thanks to great goaltending that seemed to persevere even when Carey Price went down with an injury.
Then December happened, and an Atlantic Division that featured five clubs trying to solidify playoff opportunities below the Canadiens have suddenly become contenders for the Atlantic Division title. That includes the Tampa Bay Lightning who is all of 4 points behind Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge in the standings with a game in-hand.
Montreal has gone 2-10-0 this month, losing their past 6 games. As of November 30, the club was doing just dandy at the top of the Atlantic - a clear 10 points in front of the Ottawa Senators. Now? Now they're in desperation mode.
Carey Price is out. The elite netminder has only been in net 12 games this season and even with his return from IR - estimated time of return is sometime next month - do you want to put pressure on the man to do-it-all to save the season? Goaltender Mike Condon has been playing in most of Montreal's games since Price started battling his lower body (knee) injury in October. This has been Condon's NHL debut season, a true trial-by-fire, eh? Condon's a Princeton University product (paging Alex Killorn: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to represent Harvard proudly tonight) and bounced around a bit at the ECHL and AHL level after his college career before establishing himself with the Hamilton Bulldogs. His numbers are actually all right (a 2.46 GAA and a .903 save percentage) in his time with the Habs, but his 9-9-2 record shows he's just as out of it at the moment as the rest of the club.
By the way, our old friend Dustin Tokarski is the guy backing Condon up at the moment and ... Well, he's part of a larger problem at the moment for the club: a 1-3-0 record this season in his time at the NHL level, a 3.19 GAA and a .878 save percentage. That's... ouch. Those numbers and an overworked Condon are part of why the Habs have announced a trade this morning -- Zach Kassian has been traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for goalie Ben Scrivens. The intention is for Scrivens to dress tonight in Tampa Bay, with Tokarski returned to St. John.
Speaking of old friends, defenseman Mark Barberio has been recalled by the Canadiens from St. John of the AHL. Barberio became a free agent after last season and signed with Montreal even though there was no clear chance for him to make the team. If Barberio suits up tonight, he'll be making his NHL season debut against his former colleagues at the Amalie.
Ondrej Palat is going to be out tonight for the Lightning no matter what after practice yesterday for the Bolts. Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson are day-to-day *aren't we all) but expected back in the lineup before the team's finale of this homestand. That being said, Tyler Johnson was taking line rushes with Killorn and Jonathan Marchessault yesterday while it appeared Palat, Drouin and Mike Angelidis were going to be missing the game. We'll find out the situation later this morning.
The Lightning's power play statistically has risen to 17th in the league (18.1% conversion rate) which looks a little better than the group has been performing, even if TB has been more productive the past two games. The Canadiens power play is 14th overall in the league at 19.2%... It would seem that number is the more intimidating factor when penalty kill numbers are assessed. Tampa Bay's kill-unit remains atrocious at 78.0% -- ranked 25th in the league and 7 full points behind the Canadiens own penalty kill (85.1%, ranked 4th overall).