The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are set to renew their rivalry under the lights of hockey’s biggest stage.
The age-old rivals will do battle on Saturday night in the first installment of Hockey Night in Canada for the 2015-16 season. It will be the first of five meetings between the two clubs and the only time they will face off at TD Garden this year.
Of course, Boston and Montreal will take their hatred outdoors on New Years Day for the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
The Bruins haven't shutout the Canadiens since 2011 (15 games)
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) October 9, 2015
The Habs dominated this matchup last season. They swept the Bruins in four regular-season games scoring 16 goals while conceding just six. Boston has had some recent difficulty with Montreal going 1-8-2 in their last 11 tilts.
Montreal is coming off a 3-1 victory in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. New Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty scored twice in the win while reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price made 36 saves.
Boston will have to pick themselves up off the mat after a 6-2 drubbing on home ice against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. David Krejci and David Pastrnak each scored for the Black and Gold.
As the two clubs are set to meet for the 730th time, here are some keys to help guide the Bruins to a much needed victory against their Québécois rivals.
Stop Mad Max
Pacioretty is the focal point of Montreal’s offense. The Connecticut native led the Habs with 37 goals last season and has been the club’s leading goal scorer for four consecutive seasons.
He is also gaining a reputation for being a certified “Bruins killer”. Pacioretty torched Boston for seven points (four goals, three assists) and a plus-six rating in their four contests last year. In his career, the left winger has scored 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 26 games against Boston, the most against any opponent in his career.
The Bruins defense, which already has some major question marks after Thursday night’s debacle, will be tested by Montreal’s overall team speed and skill especially from Pacioretty. Of course, they’ll have to find a way to slow down the rest of the Canadiens’ forwards but focusing on “Mad Max” is of the utmost importance if the Bruins stand any chance of victory.
The Black and Gold came out flying in the first 20 minutes on Thursday night. They were aggressive on the puck and hemmed the Jets in their own zone for much of the period, creating several good scoring chances. In total, the Bruins put 14 shots on Ondrej Pavelec’s goal in the opening frame of the season, yet only scored one goal.
Just over five minutes into the second period, Mark Schiefle tied the game and the rest is history.
Boston cannot afford to let the same thing happen again. Price is a world-class goalie and will not give the Bruins many opportunities to put pucks past him. Things could have been very different on Causeway Street Thursday if Boston could have scored two or three goals in the first. Instead, they let Winnipeg hang around long enough to seize momentum and take control.
The Bruins forwards will need to bury any grade-A scoring chances they get, especially early, to put some pressure on the Habs.
Keep Emotions In Check
Montreal’s best asset in their rivalry with Boston is the ability to get under their opponents skin.
Exhibit A was Milan Lucic last season in Montreal.
Zac Rinaldo when asked about becoming part of Bruins-Habs rivalry: "Just another game. I treat all games the same." (Talk to me Sunday Zac!)
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) October 9, 2015
Now that Lucic is gone, the challenge lies with the new Bruins to get acclimated with the rivalry. This is a different animal for many of the new boys on the roster, especially Zac Rinaldo. The former Philadelphia Flyer has gained a reputation as a ticking time bomb and is under the microscope of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
These are the types of games that Rinaldo (or any of the Bruins for that matter) cannot afford to take stupid, retaliatory penalties for any of Montreal’s antics.
The atmosphere in Boston will be electric. Can the Bruins channel that raucous energy into something more productive than destructive?