NHL on NBCSN: Bruins a big test for Canadiens team trying to make its mark

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the past four years the Montreal Canadiens have been stuck in hockey purgatory.

They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season, they haven’t won a playoff round since 2014-15, and they haven’t really taken a step in any real direction as an organization. They are not really a rebuilding team, but they have clearly not been a Stanley Cup contender, either. They just kind of exist in the middle of the league trying to find their way and make their mark in a top-heavy division that has been dominated by three of the league’s best teams the past three years.

On Tuesday night they get a major test against one of those teams — the Boston Bruins — in the latest chapter of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. It will be a pretty good measuring stick game for a team that has showed flashes of potential this season.

One of the biggest positives in Montreal has been an offense that has been one of the league’s best through the first 14 games.

They enter Tuesday’s game fifth in the league in goals per game, sixth in shots on goal per game, and already have six players with at least four goals scored on the season, including three players with at least five goals. And that is with two of their best young players for the future — Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki — not yet having a breakout offensively.

Jonathan Drouin has started to play like the impact player the Canadiens hoped he would be when they traded Mikhail Sergachev for him, Brendan Gallagher is still one of the league’s most underrated players as a possession-driving, 30-goal forward, and veterans like Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still solid top-six wingers that can contribute to a contender.

[COVERAGE OF HABS-BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

When you look at how the Canadiens have played there’s a lot to like in their game. They are tilting the ice in their favor (as the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers illustrate) and they can obviously score a little bit. But results have not always been there yet as they have played at a 93-point pace entering Tuesday’s game.

That would almost certainly just barely leave them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture yet again (they missed with 96 points a year ago). It would be an almost identical repeat of the 2018-19 season, and it just reinforces the single biggest problem with the current Canadiens’ organization — they are good, but not quite good enough and missing that one significant piece to help them break through the glass ceiling they have seemingly constructed over their heads.

The encouraging thing about this season is their territorial advantage is starting to produce more goals (something that was a problem last year) and should give them a chance to pick up the few extra wins they need, especially if Carey Price can be Carey Price when he plays (a capable backup to give him a break on occasion would also help).

Getting two points on Tuesday would be a nice step toward building something positive this season, especially as the schedule starts to lighten over the next couple of weeks. Their next 11 games after Boston include matchups against: Philadelphia (twice), Los Angeles, Columbus (twice), Ottawa, New York Rangers, and New Jersey (twice). There is a chance to stack some wins and get some points.

And for as good as Boston has been this season, and as dominant as the top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been, the Canadiens are catching a little bit of a break here with the schedule. While Montreal was sitting at home on Monday, the Bruins were playing a grueling back-and-forth game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was followed by an overnight trip to Montreal. There is an opportunity there for the Canadiens to pounce on a tired opponent, win a measuring stick game, and maybe start building something for this season.

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. John Forslund and Mike Milbury will have the call from Bell Centre in Montreal, Que.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.