The Canadiens go for the second victory under Randy Cunnyworth Thursday in Tampa Bay, and they’ll skate against a Lightning team that is two points behind them, 13th in the East. They had gone 3-6-1 in their previous 10 games before an impressive 5-1 victory over the Flyers on Tuesday.
That game was a rematch of the infamous Nov. 9 game in which the Flyers did not attack at times during the game, but held on to the puck in their own zone while the Lightning set up their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap formation. On Tuesday, Tampa Bay again threw that look — and a few more — at the Flyers, who attacked it more vigorously this time. The final score against a powerful Flyers team shows how well the Lightning can play their system.
The Canadiens could see a lot of the Lightning trap on Thursday. Their defence, which has been problematic all season, is racked with injuries. They will likely be without their top young blueliner and penalty killer, 6-foot-6 Victor Hedman. Hedman was bodied into the boards by the Flyers Matt Read on a first period rush Tuesday and is out with what is called an upper body injury. Hedman is second on the team in average ice time (22:28) and his absence further depletes an already banged-up defence corps.
Mattias Ohlund (who had both knees ‘scoped in October) has not played yet this season. Matt Gilroy has been out for the past four games with a lower body injury; he’s expected back tonight, but won’t be able to assume all of Hedman’s minutes. Additionally, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer both got nicked up in the Flyers game although they returned to play and will be dressed for the Habs. Coach Guy Boucher joked to the media after ending his post-game press conference, “Anybody play defence here?”
Boucher could well ask his forwards to be even more defensively responsible than usual tonight. “Ohlund is not replaceable. Hedman is not replaceable,” Boucher said. “What you’ve got to do is see it a different way. As a younger coach, I used to think you’ll replace guys for a little while. That’s not it. You’ve got to go with the strengths of other guys. You can’t put the pressure on the other guys to do whatever those guys were doing.”
The Lightning still boast some very talented forwards, of course, led by Steven Stamkos, whose 22 goals are tied with Rangers Marian Gaborik for the NHL lead. Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis are here, too, although St. Louis claims he does not feel comfortable playing with a cage on his helmet, the result of an eye injury he suffered on Dec. 8 prior to a game against the Rangers. He missed five games. St. Louis has a goal and three assists since returning so the cage hasn’t bothered him too much.
Few are hotter than Stamkos, who has nine points in his last six games, including five goals. Lecavlaier has six points in the last seven games, but only two goals in his last 14. Teddy Purcell has four points in his last five games and Ryan Malone has five points in his last eight games.
In goal, last year’s hero Dwayne Roloson has struggled and Boucher has increasingly turned to former Hab Mathieu Garon, who has started four of the past five games and made 32 saves — 16 in the first period — in beating the Flyers. It’s quite possible he’ll be in goal again tonight.
Like Montreal, Tampa Bay’s power play is not what is was last year. A Stamkos power play goal against Philly ended a 0-for-13 run, but it hasn’t been a strong point this season. Ohlund’s absence has a good deal to do with that. Their PP is clicking only 14.6 percent of the time, 25th in the league, and they’ve only scored 18 goals with the extra man; that’s even less than the Habs’ 19. Their penalty kill ranks 18th, 81.2 pecent.
It’s unclear how the defence corps will line-up at the moment, but these are the guys most likely to dress for the game against the Canadiens.
Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie
Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt, Dominic Moore, Adam Hall
JT Wyman, Blair Jones, Dana Tyrell
Matt Gilroy, Eric Brewer
Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark
Bruno Gervais, Marc-Andre Bergeron