RECORDS: Hawks 21-20-6 Canadiens 20-20-7
PUCK DROP: 6:30
TV: NBCSN Chicago
GREAT BAGELS THERE: Habs Eyes On The Prize
Hey did you hear the Hawks took a train from Ottawa to Montreal? Crazy, right? I mean, who does that? A train from city center to city center without dealing with an airport that neither town has near downtown? Other than like, every East Coast team between DC and Boston? Who ever heard of such a thing? Geniuses, these Hawks.
Anyway, now that everyone apparently has survived this galaxy-brained tactic of taking, y’know, a train between two cities, the Hawks will use that advantage to take on their mirror image in a lot of ways in the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are also an O6 franchise that can’t seem to get its dick out of a knot, are staring down their third-straight playoff-less season, and don’t seem to have any particular direction. Fuck, they even employ former Hawks assistant GM Marc Bergevin, who has done pretty much nothing since getting there 48 years ago or so it feels. But hey, he speaks French and everyone says he was a funny guy back in the day, so here he still is, serving up tepid stew as a hockey team once again.
The difference is that the Canadiens actually do things well with no stars to make it count, where the Hawks don’t really do anything well amongst their skaters but their stars barely keep them relevant. Metrically, the Canadiens are one of the best teams around, as Claude Julien teams tend to be. If you go by Corsi-percentage, or expected goals percentage, or just attempts per game for and against, or expected goals for and against per game, you’ll find the Habs top-10 in all of them. They keep the puck and they create the better chances more often.
What they can’t do is finish them. Les Habitants are bottom-1o in SH% at even-strength. Combine that with the fact they’re only getting middling goaltending from Carey Price this year, and they just can’t seem to turn these numbers into wins. Even a rise in SH% from their current 7.4% to just 8.0% would see eight more goals for them at evens, which can be six or more points in the standings. That would have them right on the wildcard hunt and breathing down the necks of Buds All Day for the last automatic spot in the Atlantic. You can’t miss the bear, people.
The Habs are also pretty damn fast, even without Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher as they’re currently injured. This is a team that can feature Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on its third line at times. It just doesn’t have what you’d call front-line scoring. That’s why Ilya Kovalchuk is now here, hilariously. Tomas Tatar is on the top line. Phillip Danault is awesome and has a serious case for the Selke this year, but he’s also not a top line center as the Canadiens have to use him. The hope would be that Nick Suzuki becomes that one day, but that’s a hell of a stretch.
You used to think of Montreal as having a plodding defense behind these gnat forwards, but that’s not as much the case anymore. Ben Chiarot is at least an upgrade on Karl Alzner, and Cale Fleury and Victor Mete (which you have to pronounce as Jonah Jameson even if you have to mispronounce “MEH-te” as “MEAT”) on the third pairing certainly upgrade the mobility scales. Weber and Chariot have been great together, and Jeff Petry always makes it work despite being 198 years old (somehow he’s only listed as 32 but I’m sure that’s a lie).
Price is only sporting a .908 this year, but the Habs have yet to locate a suitable backup for him so he’s playing too much and not all that well. If they were getting Price of four years ago, they’re almost certainly a playoff team. But they’re not, which leaves them seven points adrift and having four teams to leap to get there. Sound familiar? It’s like looking in a mirror…only…not.
For the Hawks, the only change we should see is Corey Crawford starting in his hometown again, where he’s generally been brilliant. Crow carries a lifetime .954 against Montreal anywhere, and his last five appearances in the Bell Centre have seen him give up four goals total. Clearly he likes it there.
The Hawks will be up against it on the back end of a back-to-back here, given how fast the Canadiens can play. A good time to remind everyone that though they won their last trip there in March, they also gave up 48 shots to do it and Crow got them all. Best not to repeat that. A track meet wouldn’t suit the Hawks here, though they could end up finishing more chances than the Habs do even if they give up more. Play this one a little more simple.
It’s a busy end to the pre-bye schedule, as the Hawks will close with three-in-four after this, making a total of five games in eight days in four cities. And they need most of the points on offer if not all of them. This is what happens when you back yourself into corners like this. Allez.