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Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens preview: The battle at the top of the Atlantic

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Can Price still Carey the load?

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Six Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens: GAME 7

Time: 7:30 PM Eastern Time

Location: Bell Centre

Broadcast/Streaming: SN360, RDS, SUN, Lightning Radio

Opponent SBNation Site: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Preview:

Have you noticed that the NHL schedule is ridiculous this year? When inputting Tampa's schedule, we noticed that the team has a ridiculously high number of back-to-back games, but not even the highest number in the league. Across the board, the NHL has the highest number of back-to-backs in recent history for two reasons: because the World Cup compressed the schedule, and because each team has been given a "bye week" of vacation.

On the minus side, it means that this weekend the Bolts face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday before taking the Holland Tunnel into New York to play the Rangers on Sunday. On the plus side, it means that yesterday, the Montreal Canadiens actually traveled to play the New York Islanders at Crappy Ice Center, before returning home to Montreal to play Tampa Bay. Let's take advantage of that, shall we?

Al Montoya, formerly of the Florida Panthers, is their current backup goaltender -- and he is excelling with the kind of conservative, defensive-minded hockey that Michel Therrien likes. He won their game last night, making the Canadiens' current streak five wins for a 6-0-1 record. Shea Weber scored the game-winning power play goal, and is now Canadiens' points leader at 9.

The Habs are a fascinating team. Last year they worked on puck possession, becoming a solid team that kept the puck in the offensive zone more often than not (they ended 13th in the league in adjusted possession). Last season, they were simply done in by their goaltending. Carey Price was out for the entire season, leaving Mike Condon, who posted .903 for the year, as their starter. The Habs addressed a few things in the off season. One of them was finding a better backup, and the other was to find a more conservative defender who could suit Therrien’s style of hockey.

In an old-fashioned Pokemon card swap, beloved Habs figure PK Subban was sent south to Nashville in return for Weber. There are varying opinions about the trade, but Weber has earned the accolades of the coach, who told NHL.com: "You look at the way he plays and he's such a tough player to play against, in front of the net and in the corners. He has a good stick. Yes, the fact that he's able to pick up points like that is impressive, but his defensive play is the most important thing for us."

With Price back and likely to start for the Bolts, the big question is: will the Bolts repeat their absolute stinker of a series from last year, in which they lost every single one of the games they played against Montreal? The Cup Final hangover is gone, Steven Stamkos is smiling again, the Bolts are averaging 3.83 goals per game in the past six, and with any luck the Habs' much-vaunted defense has tired legs. Price, on the other hand, has only give up five goals in 82 shots faced so far this season...

Comparison Chart:

In the words of Geo, “Hey look, our 30% shooting percentage and extremely low shot suppression in the Toronto game has fixed our PDO problem.”

Loserpoints says, “This game kinda looks similar to the Leafs except replace Andersen with one of the best goalies in the world. The Habs have really good offensive numbers but not so good defensive numbers. If Price plays like Price, Bishop is probably going to need to have a great game to keep up because MTL will generate chances.”

(Note that the sample size is six games for Tampa, seven games for Montreal.)

Practice lines (subject to change):

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Nikita Kucherov - Steven Stamkos - Vladislav Namestnikov

Jonathan Drouin - Tyler Johnson - Ondrej Palat

Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Brayden Point

Cedric Paquette - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Defence Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Braydon Coburn - Nikita Nesterov

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Ben Bishop

Montreal Canadiens

Forward Lines

Max Pacioretty - Alex Galchenyuk - Brendan Gallagher

Artturi Lehkonen - Tomas Plekanec - Alexander Redulov

Paul Byron - David Desharnais - Andrew Shaw

Phillip Danault - Torrey Mitchell - Brian Flynn

Defensive Pairings

Alexei Emelin - Shea Weber

Andrei Markov - Jeff Petry

Nathan Beaulieu - Greg Pateryn

Goaltenders

Carey Price

Al Montoya