Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Bell Centre
Broadcast/Streaming:TSN2, RDS, SUN
Opponent SBNation Site: Eyes on the Prize
For a new king to rise, the old one must fall. When it comes to goaltending in the Atlantic Division, and possibly the Eastern Conference it looks like a new king is emerging and his name is Andrei Vasilevskiy. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, the fall of Carey Price from atop the goalie pyramid could not have come at a worse time.
Price’s struggles aren’t the only thing hurting the pride of Quebec this season, but it might be the most glaring. For the past few years his ability to keep the puck out of the net has masked the team’s other deficiencies, be it a lack of scoring or a rapidly aging defense. This season, with Price playing as a mere mortal (or slightly worse), all of those issues have reared their ugly head and Montreal finds itself in sixth place in the Atlantic and a whopping 24 points behind the Lightning.
The off-season acquisition of Jonathan Drouin was supposed to help their offense and lighten the load on Price. Instead the team has struggled to score, accumulating a mere 101 goals through 40 games this season. Only Ottawa, Buffalo and Arizona have scored fewer. That is not company a proud franchise like Montreal wants to be associated with.
Their leading scorer is Alex Galchenyuk with 22 points. It’s worth pointing out that the player sent the other way in the Drouin deal, 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, has 26 points. In fact, ten members of the Lightning have 22 or more points on the season. If Nikita Kucherov only counted his goals (25) he would still lead the Canadiens in points. Even rookie Yanni Gourde, proud native of Quebec, would top Montreal’s statistics with his 26 points.
Enough about their lack of scoring, the Canadiens have been down that road before and still found ways to win. Their biggest issue has been defense. They’ve allowed 126 goals, a lot for a Claude Julien team. In the past, no matter what the issues were, they could always count on Carey Price to bail them out. This year, whether it’s due to a lingering injury or he’s just starting to wear down (which should bring little comfort knowing that he has an 8-year, $84 million contract kicking in next season) he just isn’t the same.
For the first time in his career his goals-allowed is over 3.00 and his save percentage is at .906, the second-lowest of his career. He still has flashes of his old self, for instance stopping 33 of 35 shots against Carolina in a 3-1 loss last week prior to stopping 31 of 34 the next night against Tampa Bay. But more games are creeping up where he’s allowing four or five goals a night and that just isn’t very Carey Price-like.
As for the Lightning, well, they just keep rolling along. They are rapidly approaching the point of the season where it’s going to be tougher and tougher to find a reason to go out and play hard. They are building a dominant lead in the Atlantic Division and threatening to run away with the Eastern Conference all together.
The next few games will be a test for their focus as they take on Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit, three teams in their division that are struggling. Coming off the high of beating Toronto, they can’t afford to sit back and hope they can throw the sticks on the ice and beat these three teams.
Luckily, Vasilevskiy has decided to turn into a beast. He’s picked up three shutouts in his last four games and has allowed more than three goals only once in his last fifteen starts. That’s pretty darn good for a young netminder enjoying his first full season as a number one. What might be more impressive is that he is continuing to improve as the season goes on. As hard as it is to imagine, he might have better games in his future.
Even if the players in front of him struggle with motivation, he is talented enough to bail them out. A familiar game plan has emerged several times this season. The Lightning look sluggish in the first period and Vasilevskiy keeps them in the game until the offense gets going and they score a few goals [I remember this from last season too, but without the Vezina-level goaltending, leading to a lot of first-period holes and subsequent losses. - Acha].
Hopefully one of the players scoring a goal will be Sergachev, who makes his first appearance in Montreal since he was dealt over the summer. Montreal fans will get to see the impressive rookie up close and wonder what could have been if he had stayed with them.
One comforting thought for them, as they watch Sergachev deftly skate through their defense, is that this will be the 40th game he’s appeared in for the Lightning. That triggers the condition nullifying the exchange of draft picks that was part of the trade. That means the fans get to look forward to an extra second round pick in this year’s draft!
Tomorrow nights game between the #Habs and #Lightning will mark Sergachev's 40th game played this season. As a result, the conditional 2018 2nd (to TBL) and 2018 6th (to MTL) round draft picks included in the Drouin/Sergachev trade will remain with their respective teams pic.twitter.com/MpkjnzSi1e— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) January 3, 2018
Comparison chart: JustinG.’s Random Video Time
With the way he’s struggled in Montreal and some of the issues during his tenure with the Lightning, it is easy to forget the talent and creativity that Drouin possesses. For instance,not many players would attempt this in practice, let alone a game.
That takes a certain set of skills that not many players have.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn — Yanni Gourde — Cory Conacher
Chris Kunitz — Cedric Paquette — J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman — Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev — Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn — Dan Girardi
Lineup Notes: No reason to suspect Coach Cooper will change things up too much unless he goes back to the 11/7 lineup to get Andrej Sustr or Slater Koekkoek back into the rotation.
Cooper said Callahan is back in the line up tonight after missing 8 games with an upper body injury. #Bolts— Caley Chelios (@CaleyChelios) January 4, 2018
Daniel Carr - Jonathan Drouin - Artturi Lehkonen
Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Charlie Hudon
Paul Byron - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher
Nicolas Deslauriers - Byron Froese - Andrew Shaw
Karl Alzner - Jeff Petry
Jordie Benn - Jakub Jerabek
Joe Morrow - David Schlemko
Notes: Alex Galchenyuk is not listed in the initial roster due to the fact that he is ill. If he misses the game that could be huge for the Lightning. Shea Weber is on IR and unlikely to return until after the All-Star break.