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Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: Continuing the playoff push

The Lightning have won four straight, can they make it five?

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens (44-24-9 97 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (38-29-9 85 pts) GAME 77

Time: 7:00pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: CITY, TVAS, SUN

Opponent SB Nation Site: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Previous Game Musings

Tampa Bay walked away from the Detroit game as the victors, however, their play didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence. Against a Red Wings team that isn’t very good and on their fourth game in five days, the Lightning had trouble maintaining offensive zone pressure at times and were pinned in their own zone more often than I would like. They battled through and pulled out a win, but the Lightning can’t allow an inferior team to keep up with them. Being this negative about a win might be counterproductive, the Bolts earned two points and kept pace with Boston and Toronto (who both won). Tampa Bay remains three points behind Boston and four points behind Toronto for a playoff spot.

Best damn goal song of the season, I might be critical of Andrej Sustr’s play this season, but I love the man’s sense of humor.

Preview

The page has turned to the last month of the 2016-2017 season and what better way to kick it off than to see the division-leading Montreal Canadiens come to town for another pivotal game against the Lightning (every game is pivotal, yes, but this is Montreal and they swept the Lightning in last season’s regular season series). This is will be the first time Tampa Bay and Montreal have played since Claude Julien became the new head coach; the last time Tampa and Montreal played was on December 28 with Tampa Bay securing a 4-3 win in overtime after coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period.

Montreal was criticized under the Michel Therrien regime for having a roster built one way, and having their coach implement a system that wasn’t as efficient as it could have been, however, since Julien has become the head coach of the Canadiens they have become a much deadlier team. The Habs have scored 214 goals (16th) and allowed 190 goals (5th), with a power-play operating at 20.1% (10th) and a penalty kill at 80.7% (16), which is surprising given that Montreal’s defense is quite good and they have Carey Price in net.

Looking at the advanced metrics, Montreal has a Corsi For % of 51.15% (9th) and an expected Goals For % of 50.50% (14th). Don’t let these numbers fool you, they give off the impression that Montreal is just above the middle of the league, but these are overall statistics. When Montreal’s numbers are examined in 5v5 scenarios they are a top-10 team in the league with a CF% of 52.43% (3rd) and an xGF% of 52.76% (6th). The penalty kill’s play has been a weakness for Montreal and it affects their overall numbers, but this Habs team is scary, especially if Carey Price is on his game.

Over their last 10 games, Montreal has gone 6-3-1 while scoring 29 goals and allowing 24, including three wins over the Ottawa Senators which has given Montreal a six-point cushion over the closest team almost ensuring the Habs win the division this season. During this 10-game stint Montreal has played rather well. Dropping games to Detroit and Carolina is a bit worrisome, but this Canadiens team is too good to allow those poor performances to sway them down the stretch.

Conversely, Tampa Bay has also improved their play from the early parts of the season to remain a threat in the playoff race, however, the recent stretch of falling behind is going to hurt them if they don’t start scoring first and dictating play. The Lightning has scored 215 goals (15th) and allowed 213 goals (17th) with a power-play (bless this unit) operating at 23.1% (4th) and a penalty kill at 80.9% (14th). It should be noted that without the power-play Tampa Bay would be hovering dangerously close to basement dwelling in scoring, that is how good the power-play (bless you Todd Richards) has been this season.

Eyeing the advanced metrics shows Tampa Bay as a top-10 team with a Corsi For % of 51.44% (8th) and an expected Goals For % of 51.34% (9th). Again, these are overall stats, but at 5v5 Tampa Bay has a CF% of 51.66% (5th) and an xGF% of 51.35% (10th). Not as big of a change as Montreal, but Tampa Bay is no slouch either in this department. The last ten games paint a mixed picture with a strong 7-3-0 record and 32 goals scored, but the Lightning has also allowed 31 goals in the same stretch. Some stretches happen this way, but it is cause for worry. Tampa Bay has allowed 3 or more goals in six of the past ten games, losing three of them. It’s not a wise plan moving forward to rely on the ability to outscore your opponents, it can only work so many times before the offense will hit a dry spell.

There has been a lot of hate spewed at Andrei Vasilevskiy (I can’t vouch for the intelligence of some fans, sometimes you just should let stupidity run its course and this is one of those cases) for his play over these past ten games, and though he has not played as lights-out as he did immediately following the trade deadline (he got really hot like every goaltender in this league does from time to time) he is not the sole reason the Lightning have allowed more goals. The defense has been shaky lately and it’s no secret that the Lightning allow far too many shots from the slot area (this has been an issue all season). Vasilevskiy is 22 years old, and this season he has a GAA of 2.68 and a SV% of .915. Compare this to the goalie those hate-spewing fans want to see in net and you’ll find Ben Bishop with a GAA of 2.50 and a SV% of .911. Not much of a difference. Let’s ease off the hate and be rational about our franchise goaltender everyone.

It is unknown if Nikita Kucherov will play this evening because he was ill for Thursday night's game against Detroit. Also, Joel Vermin has been re-assigned to Syracuse, so a return of Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette, or Steven Stamkos is plausible, but nothing has been announced by the Lightning as of this writing. Joel Vermin was sent to Syracuse for 29 minutes before management couldn’t bear the thought of not having the gritty forward on the roster for tonight’s game, he has been recalled. Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos attended practice this morning, but were not a part of line rushes. We will update the lines when more information is provided.

Comparison Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Jonathan Drouin

Adam Erne - Yanni Gourde - Joel Vermin

Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - J.T. Brown

Defensemen

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Anton Stralman - Luke Witkowski

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards

Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Alexander Radulov

Alex Galchenyuk - Andrew Shaw - Artturi Lehkonen

Paul Byron - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher

Dwight King - Michael McCarron - Andreas Martinsen

Defensemen

Andrei Markov - Shea Weber

Brandon Davidson - Jeff Petry

Alexei Emelin - Nathan Beaulieu

Goaltenders

Carey Price

Charlie Lindgren