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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings

Montreal Canadiens

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at Bell Centre


NHL: New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens have been one of the more mild surprises in the Eastern Conference to date, sporting an 11-8-5 record while weathering the absence of arguably their best skater in Shea Weber. That void will apparently be filled on Tuesday night as the Hurricanes visit Montreal, as Weber is expected to make his season debut after tearing a tendon in his foot during the offseason. His return will certainly be a welcome site for franchise netminder Carey Price, as Price has experienced a rough campaign up until now, with a .897 save percentage, as the Habs as a whole have yielded the fifth-most goals in the league without their #1 defenseman. Montreal will look for immediate dividends on that end of the ice as the veteran returns to the fold.

Offensively, the Canadiens have become much improved with the shuffling of their roster that saw former leading men Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk exit, while Max Domi and Tomas Tatar entered via trades over the summer. Domi and Tatar, along with last season’s prized acquisition Jonathan Drouin, have become the focal point of the attack for the Habs, and have elevated the scoring into the top-ten of the league over a quarter of the way through the season.

If the Canadiens are going to stay around within the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference wildcard races, they must hope that Weber’s return fortifies their blueline and in turn the top-flight status of Price in net. They must also hope that the return of their power play quarterback significantly improves a 30th-ranked power play that has appeared lost for much of the season in converting at under a 15% clip. If Weber can provide the needed jolt, perhaps the Canadiens can get to the trade deadline in a position to add instead of subtract, which would have seemed very unlikely at the season’s onset.

What to Watch For

  • As Brian LeBlanc pointed out yesterday, the Darling experiment must be over. Expect Curtis McElhinney in net as the Canes seek to ride his run of good play yet again.
  • Jake Bean could possibly make his NHL debut on Tuesday as the young defenseman was called up from Charlotte.

Anaheim Ducks

Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena


NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Wading their way through yet another season filled with injuries and lost time, the Anaheim Ducks enter this week with a .500 record, and a penchant for grinding games into sawdust in an attempt to find a way to stay afloat in the Pacific Division while they await the return of some key contributors.

While Corey Perry is expected to be lost for an extended time due to a torn MCL, the more recent losses of top defenseman Cam Fowler to a facial fracture and Hampus Lindholm to a lower body injury has depleted a D-Man core that could ill afford to lose depth in front of one of the NHL’s best goalies, John Gibson. With such carnage in front of Gibson, it is no wonder that despite a sparkling .926 save percentage, the Ducks are still 21st in goals against, as they have allowed an NHL-leading 890 shots on goal to date. Unless the Ducks are able to do something to curb the volume of rubber thrown at Gibson, the former Jennings Trophy winner will continue to struggle to keep enough pucks out of his net, even if he performs solidly.

Offensively, the Ducks were without captain Ryan Getzlaf for a period of time to begin the year, but his return for 19 games since have been enough for him to currently lead the team with 17 points on the year. Across the board, goal-scoring has been tough to come by for the Ducks, as they currently are 29th in goals for, and their offensive punch has become concentrated in their top two lines. Rickard Rakell remains dangerous, but he is off his pace from a season ago, and Adam Henrique is providing the typical supporting scoring that he is accustomed to, but the struggles of veterans Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano have been apparent and desperately lacking.

In order for the Ducks to remain relevant in the Western Conference, they must find a way to control the shots against, but they must also find more consistent production from their bottom-nine forwards. With Gibson in net, if they can provide even mediocre production offensively and reduce the workload in net, they could still have a fighting chance. If they cannot, Randy Carlyle may be the next NHL coach on the chopping block in what has been an active year for the coaching carousel.

What to Watch For

  • Friday is slated to be Hockey Fights Cancer night at PNC Arena, and the Canes will have numerous pre-game and in-game features based on that promotion.
  • Anaheim has allowed the most shots on net, while Carolina has produced the most shots on net. While the Canes have slowed down their volume somewhat in the pursuit of more quality chances, the Ducks actually sit at just 28th in shots offensively. What will the shot differential look like as these two opposite approaches face off?

Los Angeles Kings

Sunday, 10:30 p.m. at Staples Center


NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Los Angeles Kings

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The winds of change have swept through Los Angeles as the Kings season is off to a near-disastrous beginning. Coach John Stevens paid the price early, as he was replaced by Willie Desjardins after just 13 games. At 8-14-1, the Kings are in jeopardy of being buried early in the season, and it would appear that they are unlikely to rebound currently.

Once again, the Kings were dealt injury problems in net, as Jonathan Quick went to the injured list with a torn meniscus after only four games. While he is expected back sometime in December, most of the damage has been done, as a goal-starved offense has been unable to pick up any slack for a defense and goaltending group that has been below average to date.

Even the most impressive fill-in for Quick, backup Jack Campbell, has been beset by injury, and he is unlikely to return before Christmas. An early season trade with the Penguins that saw Tanner Pearson exit and the speedy Carl Hagelin enter has not provided relief, as Hagelin proceeded to injury his knee shortly after arriving. In all, a league-worst offense has continued to flounder, even with perceived reinforcements provided (including the return of Ilya Kovalchuk to the NHL), and a defensive-minded team has suffered as they play without the backbone of their defense in net.

For Carolina, Sunday represents a golden opportunity to begin a western swing with a solid effort and two points in LA, as they attempt to reverse the franchise fortunes on west coast trips. Putting forth a solid effort and gaining a result on Sunday against a battered opponent is the sort of thing that playoff-worthy teams are able to do. Time will tell if that is the kind of team the Hurricanes are.

What to Watch For

  • The aforementioned Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the NHL and is leading his team in points. Well, he has 14 points in 23 games, so that isn’t exactly impressive, but he is back!
  • Drew Doughty is one of the most impressive two-way defenseman in the NHL, and he is a player that Canes fans don’t get to see often. He has a lot on his plate in terms of logging huge minutes, attempting to shut down top scorers on the defensive end, while also being relied on to ignite the offense on the other end. Keep an eye on this talented player.

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