The Canadiens know at the end of the year they’ll probably be jockeying with the Lightning for playoff positioning and, quite possibly, facing them in the postseason.
The Lightning know it, too.
Which is why tonight’s game has a certain amount of importance to it — yes, even though it’s just two weeks into the regular season.
“Montreal has a really good team,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said, per the club website. “Last year was just a speedbump year for them. Marc [Bergevin, GM] has done a great job in retooling the whole team and Mike [Therrien, head coach] does a helluva job behind the bench.
“When teams play each other a couple times in the playoffs, there’s a budding rivalry. We missed each other last year, but I have a feeling the way things are going, we’re probably going to meet up again at some point.”
In 2014, the Bolts were swept by Montreal in the opening playoff round. A year later, Tampa Bay flipped the script by defeating the Habs in the second round, en route to the Stanley Cup Final.
As Cooper mentioned, last year was something of an aberration in Montreal. The Habs are certainly proving as much with their play to start this year.
At 6-0-1, they’re the NHL’s lone undefeated team in regulation. They currently sit first in the league in goals against, fourth in goals for, seventh on the penalty kill and 15th on the power play.
The man advantage is, obviously, the only unit not at or near the top of the league. But Shea Weber‘s play has certainly made the PP more formidable — two goals and an assist with the man advantage thus far — and the group has found the back of the net in five of the last six games.
Speaking of the power play, let’s discuss the Lightning for a moment.
Tampa Bay has been annihilating opponents with the man advantage lately. The league’s third-best PP — clicking at a 30 percent success rate — has scored four times in the last two games. Jonathan Drouin is the leading power play scorer, with three points, but all the usual suspects are chipping in as well: Steve Stamkos, Alex Killorn Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.
The Lightning are neck-and-neck with the Habs in the standings as well. They’re 5-1-0 to start the year, and are coming off consecutive wins over the Senators and Leafs.
So yeah. Tonight’s game should be a good one.
Just because they got Hampus Lindholm signed doesn’t mean the Anaheim Ducks need to make a trade right away.
First of all, the 22-year-old defenseman won’t be able to play until he gets a work visa, and that could take a week or two.
Secondly, even when he’s back in the lineup, Simon Despres (who’s got a suspected concussion, which is a “very sensitive issue”) and Nate Thompson (who ruptured his Achilles and may not be back before the trade deadline) will not be.
And with Despres and Thompson on LTIR, GM Bob Murray has some wiggle room, at least for now.
“I wanted to give this group another shot, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it that way,” Murray told reporters on a conference call, adding that he was thankful for owners who’ve allowed him to spend to the cap.
Cam Fowler has long been seen as a potential cap casualty once Lindholm signed, but the Ducks do not want to trade him, given Fowler’s ability and meaning to the team. Fowler, who’s off to a hot start with three goals and four assists in eight games, has two years left on his deal at $4 million per season.
The Ducks have gone 3-0-1 since dropping their first four to start the season. Their next game is Friday at home to Columbus.
James Reimer was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2006, made his NHL debut four years later and, all told, spent six seasons wearing the blue-and-white, playing in over 200 games.
And tonight, he might get the spotlight on him for a couple seconds.
Reimer will back up Roberto Luongo when the Panthers visit Toronto, and it sounds like he’ll do so with minimal fanfare.
Per the Sun, the Leafs are “unlikely to officially recognize Remier” during the game, opting instead to “put the in-house camera on him for a few moments.”
(Now feels like a good time to mention Edmonton had a video tribute for Nail Yakupov.)
Reimer — dealt to San Jose at the deadline before joining the Panthers this offseason — has only played twice this year, making 25 saves in a shootout loss to Tampa in his debut, then allowing three goals on 22 shots in a loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
And while he’s likely to receive little attention this evening, Reimer did play to a large media contingent on Wednesday, and had a pretty good quip about Auston Matthews taking his old No. 34 (“that’s brutal… I can’t believe he did that.”)
His former teammates, meanwhile, recalled a guy that battled hard and provided some good memories — specifically, backstopping the Leafs to the playoffs in 2013.
That, of course, led to a not-so-good memory:
For the Leafs, Frederik Andersen starts in goal.
While it wouldn’t be a surprise if McIlrath gets claimed, for GM Jeff Gorton and head coach Alain Vigneault, it was a decision that couldn’t be put off any longer.
“Gorts and I and our staff had a long talk last night after the game, and we just felt that at this time, Dylan needed to play,” Vigneault said this morning. “We all appreciate him as a person, he’s done everything that has been expected of him, and more. But on our team right now, he’s our eighth defenseman, and keeping him here and not having him play and the money going against the cap…”
Vigneault added that Gorton “looked around” in search of a trade, but obviously no deal was made.
“Selfishly, I hope he clears waivers and goes to Hartford and plays,” said Vigneault. “But if somebody would pick him up and give him an opportunity, I’d be very happy for him.”
McIlrath, meanwhile, held himself accountable for the situation. The big blue-liner has appeared in just one game this season, and he only logged 9:14 in it.
“I’m never going to blame this on the coaches,” he said, per Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. “This was all about my play and not earning a spot in the lineup.”