After a very successful season opening six-game road trip, the Montreal Canadiens had a well deserved break. Claude Julien and his men played their last game on Saturday and they are back in action on Thursday when the Calgary Flames come to Montreal. The Flames were cooled off at home, losing two in a row to the Toronto Maple Leafs, bringing their record to .500. I personally had Calgary winning the Canadian division but it looks like I might have to readjust a bit if they can’t get it together.
This two-game mini series against Toronto has, once again, put the focus on the Flames’ terrible child, Matthew Tkachuk. In game one of this series, towards the end of the game, Tkachuk was ever so slightly pushed in the crease. As he was falling, he ensured to do so on Jack Campbell, the Leafs’ goaltender, who was laying on his stomach. In doing so, you can clearly see him drive his left knee to the back of the head of Campbell.
In last night’s game, Jake Muzzin flipped a puck softly at Tkachuk, who was on one knee. The Flames winger absolutely lost it and went after the Leafs’ defenseman but the two were separated quickly. Once on the bench, the Flames winger had a temper tantrum while heading down the tunnel. All of that over a flipped puck… imagine if someone had driven his knee behind his head, right?
Flames loosing heat
Calgary has only played one road game thus far, a 4-3 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets. They will stop in Montreal for two games, then fly to Winnipeg for three more before returning home. They started the season as after Winnipeg, they won their two-game series when the Canucks visited them. But the Maple Leafs exposed some serious flaws in their game.
They’re in the middle of the pack when it comes to goals’ scored (12th) and goals’ against (11th) per game. In their first five games, they’ve shown that so far, their offense is limited to a couple of players. Seven of the 16 goals they’ve scored come from Johnny Gaudreau (4) and Tkachuk (3). Sean Monahan (7 Pts) and Elias Lindholm (5 Pts) are the other two driving the offense. Eight of their goals were on the powerplay, which sits 6th in the NHL at 33%.
The Flames finally fixed their goaltending issues when they signed former Canucks Jacob Markstrom. So goaltending isn’t an issue and Markstrom can steal a game on his own. On defense, they have a pretty solid top-4 but their third pairing is rather weak.
Habs equipped to fight
The Canadiens are well rested. They’ve had time to lick their wounds from their road trip. Paul Byron had time to rest his sore foot and Joel Armia has started skating on his own, recovering from a concussion. The rest of the team is healthy.
The Habs have shown so far that they can play any style you want. You want to skate, they can beat you at it. You want to play tough? They’ll beat you up at that game too. Where they’re struggling however, is on the special teams. Calgary has the edge in that department.
But if, for any reason, Tkachuk pulls something stupid like he did against a soft Toronto team, he will quickly pay for it. The Canadiens have a big, mobile defense. Three of these guys can and will drop the gloves in Joel Edmundson, Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber. If that fails, Josh Anderson can come in and he’s known to be able to throw a punch or two.
Key of the series
For Montreal, it feels like we’re repeating ourselves. Stay out of the box! True that some of it is in the hands of very incompetent referees but don’t cross that line. Also, the Flames’ defense will have a tough time with the relentless forecheck and the Habs’ waves of offense on all four lines. There’s just no easy shifts against the Habs at even strengths. Markstrom is arguably the best goaltender that they will have had to face in this early season. He’s big, mobile and if he sees the puck, he’ll usually stop it. Traffic in front and making him move laterally are good strategies to take to beat him.
This is set to be an intense, but excellent two-games series. Too bad there aren’t fans in the stands as could you imagine the electricity in the Bell Centre with this team and the start of the season they have? Either way, we’ll be cheering from our living rooms! Go Habs Go!