It’s a low-key Monday in the NHL with only eight teams in action. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Florida at New Jersey (SN/SN1), followed half an hour later by Washington at Montréal (NHLN/RDS). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Calgary at Winnipeg (TVAS), with tonight’s nightcap – Dallas at Los Angeles (SN) – waiting until 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.
- Washington at Montréal: For all intents and purposes, Lars Eller played the first six years of his NHL career in Montréal. Nowadays, he finds himself playing for the Capitals.
- Calgary at Winnipeg: It’s the third-straight rivalry game for the Flames.
Not only is this a special night for Eller, but it should be a fantastic game between two competitive teams. To the City of Saints we go!
The Danish center might have been drafted by St. Louis 13th-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but he only suited up seven times for the Blues during the 2009-’10 season before being traded to the Canadiens with Ian Schultz for Jaroslav Halak.
It turned out to be a good trade for both clubs. Specifically for Eller, he ended up notching 154 points from 2010-’16 during his tenure with the Habs – the eighth-most for a Canadien during that span.
He especially had a knack for scoring when shorthanded, as his eight shorthanded points for the Habs are second-most for the club during his tenure. That 2011-’12 season was certainly a magical one for Eller. He notched three shorthanded points that season, including two shorthanded goals.
But scoring probably isn’t what he’s most known for.
From the moment he showed up in Montréal to the day he left, Eller was always known as a physical player. Every single season, he made Montréal‘s top-10 list for hits thrown, including twice finishing the season with the third-most on the club. His presence was most known during the 2013-’14 campaign when he threw 130 hits, his career-high.
During the 2016 NHL Entry Draft with two years remaining on his contract, Eller was shipped down to Washington in exchange for the Capitals‘ 2017 and 2018 second-round picks.
Eller has kept his hitting ways up with the Capitals, as his 33 hits 10th most on the club. But he’s been an even bigger asset at the faceoff dot, where his .46 winning percentage is fifth-best on the team.
Eller and his new club, winners of their last five contests, come to Montréal with a 25-9-5 record, only good enough for fourth place in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. Although usually known for their offense, it’s been the Capitals’ impressive defense and goaltending that has led the way, allowing only 79 goals this season – the fewest in the NHL.
As you’d expect after the phenomenal year he had last season, 18-8-4 Braden Holtby has been charged with manning Washington‘s crease most nights. He’s done a good job, notching a season .931 save percentage and 1.93 GAA – the fourth and second-best efforts, respectively, among the 45 goaltenders with 16 or more appearances.
A player of Holtby’s caliber doesn’t necessarily need help, it’s certainly nice to play behind the sixth-best defense. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 70 blocks, Washington allows only 28 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s net.
That success has continued into the penalty kill, where the Capitals are third-best in the league, neutralizing 87.1% of their shorthanded situations. Among the blueliners, Brooks Orpik deserves most credit for that success with his team-leading nine shorthanded blocks.
Surprisingly, the Washington power play is on the verge of being strikingly bad. Scoring on only 16.4% of their opportunities, the Capitals are tied for 10th worst in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom has led the man-advantage surge with 13 power play points to his credit but, as one would expect, it’s been Alex Ovechkin scoring most the power play goals, with six to his credit – twice the total of second place.
Playing host this evening are the 25-9-6 Canadiens, the best team in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their last three games, Montréal has also played fantastically on the defensive end, allowing only 92 goals – the fifth-fewest in the league.
20-5-4 Carey Price has been just as impressive for the Habs with a season .93 save percentage and 2.06 GAA – the fifth and seventh-best efforts, respectively, in the league among the 45 netminders with 15 or more appearances.
I would like to submit the argument that Price’s play has been more important for the Habs than Holtby’s for the Caps. You see, even with Shea Weber‘s team-leading 85 blocks, Montréal‘s defense allows 30.1 shots-per-game to reach Price’s crease, the 15th-highest total in the league.
The defensive issues especially come to light when Montréal is on the penalty kill, as their 80.3% success rate is tied for 10th-worst in the league. Once again, Weber takes command of the defensive efforts with 24 shorthanded blocks, but he and Alexei Emelin are the only two skaters with 20 or more blocks on the penalty kill. More skaters need to get involved if the Habs want to find success when the playoffs come around.
Fortunately for the Canadiens, they’ve been able to cover their inability to stop power play goals by scoring quite a few of their own. Successful on 21.3% of power play opportunities, the Habs are 10th-best in the league and led by Weber’s 14 man-advantage points, eight of which are goals, which also leads the club.
These clubs have already met once this season, with the Canadiens earning a 2-1 road victory on December 17. Price earned the victory thanks to a Jeff Petry tally late in the second period.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (19 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Price (20 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a .93 save percentage [fifth-best in the league] and a 2.06 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the league]) & Washington‘s Holtby (five shutouts [tied for most in the NHL] and a 1.93 GAA [tied for second-best in the league] and .931 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL] for 18 wins [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Ovechkin (18 goals [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).
Montréal has a -110 next to their name in Vegas, marking them the favorite in tonight’s contest, and based on the most recent matchup, I think that’s fair. As both teams are certainly capable of scoring, I give the edge in this game to the Habs‘ blueline that will guide them to victory.
- Scott Thornton (1971-) – This left wing was the third-overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, but he spent most of his playing days in San Jose. By the time his 17-season career was through, he’d notched 285 points, 144 of which were goals. And yes, he and Joe Thornton are cousins.
- Radek Bonk (1976-) – A two-time All Star, this center was drafted third-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa. He played 10 of his 14 seasons with the Senators, helping them to eight playoff appearances over his tenure.
- Mathieu Garon (1978-) – The 44th-overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, this goaltender played 341 games over a dozen seasons. He played most of those games with Los Angeles, even though he spent more years with the Canadiens. He was a member of Pittsburgh‘s 2009 Stanley Cup winning squad.
Minnesota took command of the second period in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, beating the Ducks 2-1 at the Honda Center.
Only the Ducks were able to break through for a goal in the first period, compliments of Third Star of the Game Ryan Kesler‘s (Jakob Silfverberg) tip-in tally, his 16th time lighting the lamp this season. Anaheim held their lead into the first intermission.
Only 4:39 after returning to the ice, Matt Dumba (Zach Parise and First Star Eric Staal) took advantage of a five-on-three power play caused by both Cam Fowler and Logan Shaw taking seats in the penalty box for separate offenses and leveled the game with a slap shot. 1:42 later, Jared Spurgeon (Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker) scored what ended up being final goal of the game, a game-winning wrister.
Minnesota‘s win is the second-straight for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the series record at 47-27-14 in favor of the hosts by 11 points.