The last time the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights played each other, it was for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
But a lot has changed in the four and a half months since the Canadiens, who host Vegas on Saturday night, skated to a 4-2 series victory over the visiting Golden Knights in a clinching 3-2 overtime win in Game 6 to earn their NHL-leading 35th appearance in a Stanley Cup Final.
The Canadiens lost free agent center and defensive stalwart Phillip Danault to the Los Angeles Kings, who signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract. Defenseman and team captain Shea Weber was placed on long-term IR with injuries to his foot, ankle, knee and thumb and may never play again. And star goaltender Carey Price has been in the NHL players’ assistance program since early October.
Montreal, blown out by the visiting New York Islanders 6-2 on Thursday, enters Saturday’s contest last in the Atlantic Division with just six points and three wins in 12 games.
There was potentially some good news, however, for Dominique Ducharme’s squad. It was announced Friday that Price will rejoin the team on Monday but with no timetable for him to return to action.
“There’s no timeline of when he will be able to play,” said Ducharme, who added it’s possible the 2015 Vezina Award winner may need a tune-up game or two with the AHL Laval Rocket before returning to the Canadiens.
Still, any news is good news for the Canadiens, who followed a 3-0 win over Detroit on Tuesday with a clunker against the Islanders, trailing 5-0 after 40 minutes.
Ducharme was asked if he was frustrated by his team’s performance.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “(But) I (won’t) come here and give a show, I won’t make headlines and do something that will be on YouTube for 20 years. What I have to say, I’ll be telling my guys.”
Vegas, which is just fifth in the Pacific Division and has been hit with a number of key injuries to players like captain Mark Stone (lower body), Max Pacioretty (broken foot) and William Karlsson (broken foot), started its four-game road trip with an ugly 4-0 loss at Toronto on Tuesday in a game goalie Robin Lehner said was “probably the worst one we’ve had since I came to Vegas.”
But the Golden Knights bounced back with an impressive 5-1 victory at Ottawa on Thursday.
Even better news for Vegas is that it won the golden ticket and obtained Jack Eichel in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday morning. And although it will likely be at least three months before Eichel is ready to play again with neck surgery on the horizon, the thought of adding Eichel to a team that has advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals in three of its first four seasons gave the team a spark.
“I think we got energy and excitement,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer. “We know what we’re eventually going to add to our lineup, but I think just as much kind of putting it to bed, too. There was a lot of speculation for a long time. It’s human nature that it weighs on you. It was kind of nice to put that in the rearview mirror.”
Besides the mental boost, DeBoer was impressed with his team’s effort against the Senators.
“Tonight we got back on the forecheck (and) created more offense,” DeBoer said. “We were harder to play against defensively. We fixed all the things we didn’t do in Toronto.”
The Golden Knights complete their road trip on Sunday at Detroit.
–Field Level Media