It was a good night for the Canadiens in Sunrise last night. They went in and came out with a 5-3 win over the Panthers. The warm weather wasn’t much of a distraction, as the Canadiens were the better team all night long. Any game the Canadiens get 2 points out of it with Niemi in net is certainly reason to be in a good mood. Carey Price will not play, at a minimum, the next two games on the Canadiens’ schedule.
He will miss the three-game road trip because of a lower-body injury. Head coach Claude Julien indicated that it’s been a nagging injury with Price, so hopefully it isn’t something that continues to irritate him. Niemi is fine for a start here and there, but he is not at a point in his career where he could carry his team. He wasn’t perfect last night, allowing 3 goals on 26 shots, but his team gave him great goal support in the winning effort on Friday.
It isn’t completely clear whether Julien will go with Niemi again, or opt to go with AHL fill-in Michael McNiven. The former member of the Owen Sound Attack has yet to appear in an NHL game. A debut against the hottest team in the NHL be one way to start a career in the NHL. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Niemi back in net, though.
There is likely a better spot to give McNiven his first start, and a road game against the Lightning seems a bit dangerous. Tampa are on a serious roll with a record of 29-7-2 entering tonight. They’ve been nearly perfect at home, 16-4-0 in 20 games. The Bolts have won their last four games and winners in fifteen of their last sixteen outings. We’ll see if the Canadiens offer any pushback against the red-hot Lightning on Saturday night in Tampa. Get our free Canadiens vs. Lightning pick below.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Pick
The Maple Leafs are doing their best to keep up with the Lightning, but it hasn’t been easy given how well the Lightning are playing right now. It would make for an entertaining Eastern Conference Final if these two clubs meet. Tampa is eventually going to hit a dry spot before the end of the regular season. However, looking at the level that they’re on right now, it’s difficult to envision this team slowing down anytime soon.
With a backup between the pipes for the Canadiens on Saturday night, that’s most likely not going to happen. The Bolts are 1st in the NHL with over 4 goals scored per game. Toronto are in 2nd, though nearly a half goal behind the Lightning. Tampa have averaged 4.35 goals per game at home and have recorded a staggering 5 goals per game in their previous ten outings on the ice.
Don’t expect the Canadiens to be able to hold their offence back. The Canadiens have allowed just over 3 goals per game this season for 23rd in the NHL. If this season featured only Niemi, then they’d be much further back than that. Niemi owns a 4.01 GAA and 0.877 save percentage.
It’s either him or the rookie against Stamkos and company in Tampa. The Canadiens best opportunity here is to throw the kitchen sink at Vasilevskiy. They’re going to have to take some chances, which may result in some odd-man rushes in the opposite direction for the Lightning. Expect plenty of goals in this one, with a play on the OVER the best option in Florida on Saturday night.