This weekend former Kings and Canadiens goaltender Rogatien Vachon (interview) will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It's a long overdue honor and comes at the perfect time in the Kings schedule. Vachon played the bulk of his Hall of Fame career for the Kings and Canadiens, logging 389 games in LA and 206 for Montreal. His 355 career wins ranks 19th overall. At different points in his post playing career he served in a variety of different positions for the Kings, including Head Coach and General Manager, and his jersey number (30) was the first retired in LA Kings history.
It's fitting that a goaltender should be the focus of attention this week considering the reversal of fortunes in net for the two teams. Here's a brief look at the history between the Kings and Habs and a focus on the major storylines for each club.
First Matchup vs. Canadiens in Montreal
December 2nd, 1967
LAK 3 - MTL 2
Most Recent Matchup vs. Canadiens in Montreal
December 17th, 2015 LAK 3 - MTL 0
All Time Record vs. Montreal Canadiens
390 GF/579 GA
All Time Record at Bell Center
Kings Leading Scorers Against Montreal
Anze Kopitar - 9 points (5 Goals/4 Assists) in 11 games
Tyler Toffoli - 6 points (1 Goal/5 Assists) in 6 games
Jake Muzzin -5 points (3 Goals/2 Assists) in 6 games
Canadiens Leading Scorers Against LA
Shea Weber - 21 points (7 Goals/44 Assists) in 33 games
Andrei Markov - 8 points (1 Goal/7 Assists) in 12 games
Alexander Radulov - 8 points (1 Goal/7 Assists) in 8 games
LA Kings Leading Scorer
Jeff Carter - 9 points (5 Goals/4Assists) in 13 games
After a three game losing streak where they failed to score in each game, the Kings enter this game on their own streak of shutting out opponents. The 5-0 shutout of the Flames and 7-0 dismantling of the Maple Leafs extended the Kings second win streak of the season to three games and they hope to extend it through the current road trip. After struggling to score early in the season and being led by Alec Martinez, the offense has finally ignited. Nowhere is this more evident than in the seemingly revitalized Dustin Brown.
Currently tied for third in scoring, and on pace for a 50 point season after failing to break 30 in the past 4 seasons (including the lockout shortened 2012-13), Brown is 3 goals away from passing Charlie Simmer for 8th all time in Kings history. His next point will move him into a tie with Jim Fox for 9th overall in points.
Meanwhile in net, Peter Budaj is having his own career renaissance. After spending the past two seasons in the AHL, the Slovakian goaltender has started 10 games in a row for the Kings (7-3-0) and is tied for second in wins (7) and shutouts (2) in the NHL. Before joining the Kings organization his last team was the Montreal Canadiens where he appeared in 54 games over three seasons while backing up Carey Price.
When it was announced that Jonathan Quick would be lost to injury, many feared that the Kings season might be lost as well. Despite a few rough stretches, Budaj has ably filled in for the Conn Smythe winner and his paltry 1.86 GAA ranks among the top ten in the league. It's too early to proclaim the season saved or that Budaj is it's savior but a 7-3-0 record in the last 10 games is at least enough to make Kings fans smile in what has already been an emotionally trying 2016-17 campaign.
Montreal Canadiens Leading scorer
Alex Galchenyuk - 13 points (5 Goals/8 Assists) in 13 games
The Montreal Canadiens faced something of an identity crisis last season. After jumping out to a franchise best 9-0-0 start, the Habs compiled a 16-4-2 record before losing starting goalie Carey Price to injury. Their 22-34-4 record following the injury saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons and only the second time since the 2004-05 lockout. Despite a strong record with a healthy Price, their sudden misfortune caused doubts about the composition of the team. Two days before the activation of a no-trade clause in his contract, Montreal did the seemingly unthinkable and traded popular defenseman PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber.
The trade was almost universally questioned. Weber is almost 4 years older and has a significantly longer contract with 10 years remaining on the 14 year contract he signed in 2012. On top of the obvious financial issues, Subban was an increasingly popular player among fans. In addition to Weber, the Canadiens also added Predator Alexader Radulov and Andrew Shaw to the forward ranks and brought back Kirk Muller to coach the Power Play that finished 25th in the league (16.2%). It should be pointed out that while the Canadiens power play has slightly improved so far with Weber and Muller (19.5%), PK Subban has 5 points on a seemingly vastly improved Predators power play (26.7%).
The Canadiens strong start and improved special teams has been somewhat undermined by the fact that their possession numbers rank near the bottom of the league. They appear to be benefiting from unusually good goaltending and timely scoring. Their two losses have come with backup Al Montoya in net including a 10-0 rout at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's not particularly insightful to say that Montreal won't be able to maintain an 11-1-1 pace throughout the season but there are signs that their current success may be less sustainable than it appears. The role of goaltender is often overstated by the media but the Habs and Kings are two perfect examples of how stability throughout a franchise can help deal with the loss of franchise netminders like Quick or Price. Unlike the Kings, who have survived temporary loss of Quick's services multiple times, the Habs have shown what happens when something happens to their goaltending…
And it's not pretty.