The Winnipeg Jets are in Montreal tonight, playing the Habs for the first of two meetings this season.
Puck drop is 6:00pm CT.
Montreal is off to a nice start to the season, with a 4-2-1 record. They’re riding surprisingly good goaltending, while icing mediocre special teams units. They’re 14th in the league on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill.
It’s fitting their captain, Nick Suzuki, wears the #14, given the Habs are 14th in the league in a few key metrics.
In both goals for per game and goals against per game, they’re 14th. Middling performance buoyed by excellent, timely goaltending.
The Jets, meanwhile, come to Quebec feeling good after putting together their first three winning streak of the season. They handled Detroit soundly on Thursday.
In my estimation, the Jets have the advantage all over the ice, at forward, defense, and goaltending. Although it appears that Laurent Brossoit will get the start tonight, evening up that side of the matchup.
Regardless, Winnipeg should is more than capable of earning two points tonight.
Here are the keys to making that happen.
Disregard the Canadiens’ goalie stats and let the onslaught continue
The Canadiens have tension between two stats that has to break at some point.
They’ve allowed the 2nd most shots against per game this year, at 35.3, but also have the highest 5v5 save percentage in the league, at 96.6.
Something’s got to give.
Jake Allen will make his fourth start of the season, and is coming off back-to-back victories over Buffalo and Washington. He stopped 67 of 70 shots (95.7%) in those games, and head coach Martin St. Louis appears willing to ride the hot hand.
Montreal is getting timely goaltending, and scoring when they need to. The Jets will need to be patient, play the same way regardless of the score, and trust that their four line bonanza will overwhelm the young Habs in time.
The Jets have the better group of skaters.
Consider the graphic below:
The Canadiens are defending the immediate goalmouth very well. But they’re allowing tons of shots to come in from the dangerous zone surrounding it, and I like the Jets’ shooting talent to convert on a few of them.
That right wing side is looking mighty fine for Kyle Connor to find some dangerous shots. He’s been cookin’ all season, and I expect him to find the scoresheet tonight.
If Nik Ehlers can start hitting the net, he might be able to convert on a few looks as well.
Shut down Cole Caufield, suffocate the Canadiens offence
The Habs have one truly dangerous player in Cole Caufield, and after that, they become an okay team with exciting pieces for the future.
Nick Suzuku is skilled and talented, but hasn’t been off to a great start this season. He’s the Canadiens’ de facto number one center, and has heavy defensive responsibility.
It will be largely be up to the Jets’ top dogs to outplay that top line. Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo will likely see the most minutes against them, although the away matchup means St. Louis can try and get their dynamic duo out against the Jets’ bottom pair of Schmidt and Samberg.
But shut down those two, and you shut down the entire team.
That being said, Sean Monahan is off to an excellent start to the season, with three goals and three assists. He’s been centering a veteran third line, flanked by Tanner Pearson and Brendan Gallagher. There’s nothing dynamic there, but they’re solid pros who will be unafraid to work the puck down low and be patient in generating scoring chances.
They’ve combined for eight goals on this young season so far.
The Habs’ version of the Jets’ Perfetti-Namestnikov-Ehlers line is Alex Newhook centering Josh Anderson and Juraj Slavkovsky.
Much like the Jets’ skilled line, that one will be the wildcard. There is talent on that line for Montreal, but talent that has yet to find consistency at the NHL level.
Can the Jets start winning some faceoffs?
Faceoffs are either the most overrated or underrated thing on the planet, depending on the game, recent memory, and how frustrated you are with the outcomes.
I tend to think nothing of them, until you start noticing how often your team is having to go earn the puck back after losing the draw. Or when you lose the first faceoff on a power play over and over again and have to keep regrouping.
Given that Josh Morrissey scored a key goal against Edmonton last Saturday directly off a faceoff win, there’s some recency bias in favour of caring about faceoffs. No face off win, no goal for Morrissey in that case.
But the main reason faceoffs are top of mind is that the Habs are allowing a boat load of shots against per game, yet are top ten in the league when it comes to faceoffs, winning 53% of them, ranking 8th. Starting with the puck doesn’t seem to matter.
The Jets, meanwhile, are 27th, winning just 47%.
Despite both of those statistics, the Winnipeg is in the top third in the league when it comes to shot volume and shot suppression, suggesting that after the faceoff occurs, they’re capable of defending their zone, winning the puck back, and generating an opportunity on goal.
Montreal is the opposite. They win faceoffs often but their goaltenders are being peppered with pucks all night.
They’re also 24th in the league when it comes to shots for per game, with 28.7 per game.
All of this is to say that any uptick in faceoff performance – especially in this game – will help the Jets demonstrate their superiority over Montreal.
They just need to go out and execute.