CANADIENS (6-4-1) at LIGHTNING (6-5-0)
TV: TSN, RDS, SUN
Last 10: Montreal 6-3-1; Tampa Bay 5-5-0.
Season series: This is the first of three meetings. They split their four meetings last season, with the home team winning all four games.
Big story: Both teams are desperately seeking a victory, with the Lightning losing four straight games in regulation and the Canadiens losing three straight, though one was in a shootout. Depending what happens elsewhere, the losing team could find itself drop out of the top-eight in the Eastern Conference.
Canadiens: While the Canadiens were winning six of their first eight games there was little reason for Michel Therrien to tinker too much with his line combinations, even though there were reasons for concern. The biggest one was the lack of production from last season’s number one trio made up of David Desharnais between Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole, who have combined for five goals thus far this season, with Pacioretty still waiting for his first of the season.
After 11 games of very little production from the unit, Therrien has decided to split the three up, moving Pacioretty onto a line with rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher while Brandon Prust moves into Pacioretty’s spot to the left of Desharnais and Cole.
“I had a discussion with that line and told them that if I didn’t see an improvement, I would have to separate them,” Therrien said after Monday’s practice. “They had nice chemistry last season, but they haven’t been able to find it again this season.”
The biggest impact the line change may make is that Galchenyuk and Gallagher may be called upon to play a bigger role on the club. Galchenyuk is averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time per night and Gallagher just over 11, but with Pacioretty on their wing now instead of Prust that number will likely increase against the Lightning.
“Our kids have reached a stage after 11 games that they’re ready to take on a bit more responsibility,” Therrien said. “It’s part of the learning process.”
Lightning: The Lightning lived up to their nickname through the first seven games of the season, electrifying crowds with a high-octane offense that pumped in 37 goals to go 6-1-0 over that span. But over the course of this four-game losing streak the Lightning has scored just six goals while allowing 14, with the worst effort coming in Tampa Bay’s last game in New York when the Rangers beat them 5-1 and outshot them 32-20.
“This was unacceptable. Embarrassing,” center Steven Stamkos said after the game. “We're a lot better team than this. If we want to be a good team, we have to play better than this.”
The lack of offense can be linked to the power play going completely dry over the last three games, failing to convert on 10 straight opportunities and managing just six shots on goal. Meanwhile, Martin St. Louis hasn’t scored in nine games and Stamkos hasn’t scored in three while others like Teddy Purcell and Vincent Lecavalier have also struggled offensively.
“It's surprising,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher told the Tampa Bay Times. “I'd love to say I'll help them put it in, but we're not going to put it in for them. They're doing the right thing. They're in the right place. They're shooting at the right time. It's just not going in.”
Who’s hot: If there is one shining light for Tampa Bay, it would be the continued solid play of defenseman Viktor Hedman. Over this four-game losing streak, he is just a minus-1 despite logging heavy minutes and his team being outscored 14-6. … For the Canadiens, defenseman P.K. Subban has four points in the five games he’s played this season. Tomas Plekanec has two goals and an assist in his last three games.
Injury report: The Lightning placed left wing Ryan Malone on injured reserve Monday after he suffered a lower-body injury prior to the game against the Rangers on Sunday while participating in the usual pre-game warm-up of kicking the soccer ball around. Defensemen Matthias Ohlund and Matt Taormina are also on injured reserve. … The Canadiens are without center Petteri Nokelainen.