The Montreal Canadiens are about to embark on a very big mission this evening, as they walk into the St Pete Times Forum to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. But riding high on a 3 game winning streak that began back on February 26th against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Center, le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge are hoping to do something that is rare for them as a team. Completing a road sweep.
This is the third meeting of these teams this season, with one more scheduled in just over a week from tonight (back in the Bell Center on March 17th). But in order for the Habs to come away with 6 points on this trip, and maintaining a win in 4 straight games, they will need to be a much more disciplined team than they have been as of late.
Much of the Canadiens problems recently, stems from their inability to stay out of the penalty box. The team consistently places themselves in tumultuous positions as they take penalty after penalty – many of which are inexcusable – some being close to 200 feet from their own net.
Mistakes that are ill advised against a team that has seen the top of the conference in their sight for a majority of the season. Not to mention a team that has the NHL scoring leader on the roster (Steven Stamkos – 41 Goals), as well as two of the top three points leaders in the league (Stamkos – 78 ; St. Louis – 75). This is a team that has size and speed, and can easily make you pay for your mistakes.
In their last two meetings, the Habs have been unable to secure a win. They managed to pick up one point in their initial meeting, grinding with the Lightning before finally succumbing in a 4-3 OT loss at home in Montreal. In the last meeting, they were handed a 4-1 loss in Tampa, as ex Bulldog Cedrick Desjardin stopped almost everything that the Canadiens could throw at him.
Keys to victory will not just include staying out of the penalty box, but also maintaining neutral zone control, cycling the puck down low in the offensive zone, and using some size to get to the front of the net. Speed will also be a key.
Defensively, they will need to keep the Lightning offense boxed to the outside and away from Carey Price – allowing the star goaltender to see and track the puck. The Lightning offense is especially dangerous down low, where they love to set up Stamkos in the slot. Physical play from the sizable players of the Habs defense, will be required to move these players from the front of the net.
Montreal is a team that has been known for their lack of offense, having scored only 172 goals this season while allowing 165 (+7 differential). Strangely enough, the Lightning are a -1 in goal differential, having allowed 194 against the 193 they have scored. So tonight the Canadiens are going to have to try and get the puck to the net, and park some bigger players in front of the blue paint – taking advantage of the fact that Dwayne Roloson can give them up under pressure.
Tonight is more than a potential for picking up 6 points on the road, and going 4 straight for the win column. It’s a matter of positioning themselves mentally for the big weeks to come. After finishing the road trip tonight, the Habs head back home to defend home ice against the divisional rival Boston Bruins. A game that has a lot at stake.
The Bruins lead the Canadiens by 6 points in the Northeast, and with two meetings remaining, this coming Tuesday is as important a match as any they have played so far this year. After the grudge match loss they took in their last meeting, where 166 PIM were assigned between both teams, and the Bruins managed to come out on top 8-6, the Canadiens will have something to prove. They have managed to own the Bruins for the most point this season, having won 3 of 4 match-ups. But none will be bigger than this coming Tuesday night on home ice.
But not far on the Bruins tails, are games against the Blues, Penguins, Capitals, and then the Lightning again.
So tonight, Les Boys will try and do something far more important than just gain 2 more points. They’ll set the tone for some big games to come in order to cement themselves into a solid playoff position, with a solid playoff mentality.