After another loss to their North Division tormentors, the Montreal Canadiens will try to solve the visiting Calgary Flames when the two clubs meet again on Friday evening.
Montreal dropped to 1-4-0 against Calgary this season with Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat in Montreal. After a 4-2 victory over the Flames on Jan. 28, the Habs have lost their past four meetings with Calgary by a cumulative 11-3 score.
The one-sided nature of the rivalry looms large considering that Montreal is trying to hold off Calgary for the fourth and final North Division playoff spot. Even though the Canadiens have three games in hand on the Flames, Calgary sits just four points back of Montreal, with several chances to directly narrow that deficit. After Friday’s game, the two teams will play a three-game set in Calgary from April 23-26.
Not surprisingly, there already is a playoff-like atmosphere to this stretch of five games between the two teams in 12 days, which Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin described as a “series” unto itself.
“You’re going to get those head-to-head games where you can really climb back in [the playoff race], and obviously this is the team we’re chasing. We know how important these games are,” Hanifin said.
The Flames are 3-0-0 since a four-day break in the schedule caused by the most recent postponement against the Vancouver Canucks because of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
While the Flames might be peaking at the right time, the Canadiens are 2-5 over their past seven games. This slump has only increased the urgency in Montreal, as forward Nick Suzuki said the Habs “really need to be desperate.”
“We’re fighting for the playoff spot, too,” Suzuki said. “[The Flames] are right behind us, and these games coming up against them are going to be huge. … We need to come out on top.”
Jake Allen is only 2-6-4 over his past 12 starts and has begun the Canadiens’ past five games with Carey Price still recovering from a lower-body injury. Price did skate before Wednesday’s game, however, so he could be closer to returning even if a start on Friday might not be in the cards.
Some type of goaltending decision will need to come quickly since the Canadiens also play on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Price could return in that game, or Cayden Primeau could be recalled from the AHL, unless Montreal decides to start Allen on consecutive days.
The Flames used that same tactic with Jacob Markstrom, who stopped 24 of 26 shots in Calgary’s 3-2 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, then returned for a second start in as many nights to limit Montreal to one goal on 27 shots.
Backup Louis Domingue could be deployed on Friday if Markstrom simply needs a break, but it seems likely that Markstrom again will be between the pipes for this important game.
Calgary forward Mikael Backlund has seven points (two goals, five assists) during a five-game points streak.
Elias Lindholm has six points (two goals, four assists) over a four-game points streak. Lindholm leads all Calgary skaters in points against the Canadiens this season, with five assists in five games.
Joel Armia (COVID-19 protocols) returned Wednesday after missing Montreal’s previous eight games.