Canadiens Game Day: Habs kick off Super Bowl weekend vs. Panthers

The Canadiens will continue their Super Bowl weekend tradition, which started in 1991, when they play back-to-back matinee games at the Bell Centre, starting with Saturday’s matchup against the Florida Panthers (2 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Columbus Blue Jackets will be the visitors on Sunday (2 p.m., SNE, SN1, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens (23-22-7) are coming off a 3-1 win Thursday night in Buffalo, while the Panthers (28-16-5) are on a six-game winning streak during which they have outscored the opposition 30-17, scoring at least four goals in each game. The Panthers have the best offence in the NHL, scoring an average of 3.67 goals per game.

The Canadiens’ Claude Julien will be coaching his 400th regular-season game with the Canadiens and has a 184-161-54 record.

Before the game, Julien said he will make a game-time decision as to whether Ryan Poehling or Jordan Weal will be in the lineup. If Poehling doesn’t play, that would be the only lineup change from Thursday’s game in Buffalo.

The Canadiens announced Saturday morning that Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been sent down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket. In 36 games this season, Kotkaniemi had 6-2-8 totals and was a team-worst minus-11. The 19-year-old centre had one goal and no assists in his last 12 games.

Kotkaniemi, selected by the Canadiens with the No. 3 overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft, has never played a game in the AHL. The Rocket play the Belleville Senators at 7 p.m. Saturday at Laval’s Place Bell.

The Canadiens have a 30-19-7 record on Super Bowl weekend since the 1990-91 season. They are 14-9-5 on the Saturday and 16-10-2 on Super Bowl Sunday. The Canadiens have swept the weekend series seven times (1993, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2013, 2016, 2018).

This will be the second game this season between the Canadiens and Panthers. The Canadiens lost 6-5 to the Panthers in Florida on Dec. 29.

The Canadiens enter the game eight points behind Florida for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and the Panthers hold three games in hand. The Canadiens are also eight points behind Toronto for the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Maple Leafs hold one game in hand.

High-priced goalies

Carey Price will start in goal for the Canadiens. He has a 5-1-0 record in his last six starts with a .952 save percentage while allowing 10 goals. For the season, Price has a 21-17-4 record with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Price is in the second season of an eight-year, US$84-million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $10.5 million.

Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has a four-game winning streak with a .922 save percentage over that span. For the season, Bobrovsky has a 19-12-4 record with a 3.24 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage. Bobrovsky is in the first season of a seven-year, US$70-million contract with a $10 million salary-cap hit. Over his last 11 starts, Brobrovsky has an 8-3-0 record. His career record against the Canadiens is 11-6-1 with a .930 save percentage.

Price is earning $15 million this season, including a $13 million signing bonus, while Bobrovsky is earning $11.5 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus. They are the two highest-paid goalies in the NHL.

Back-to-back for Price?

Julien didn’t rule out the possibility of playing Price in both games this weekend.

“I can’t answer that right now,” Julien said when he met with the media at 11:45 a.m. at the Bell Centre. “I think when you look at the Buffalo game it wasn’t a real, real tough game for Carey. So, no doubt, he’s ready for today and probably put himself in a better position to play back-to-back with that situation. But we’ll see after tonight. It’s certainly consideration, but not a done deal yet.”

Price only faced 21 shots Thursday night in Buffalo. He will make his 43rd start this season on Saturday, the most of any goalie in the NHL.

Drouin still not ready to play

Jonathan Drouin still isn’t ready to return to the Canadiens’ lineup after having wrist surgery on Nov. 18.

“He’s feeling better,” Julien said about Drouin. “He says he’s starting to feel a lot more comfortable, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that he comes back soon.”

Paul Byron, the only other Canadiens player now on the injured list, hasn’t played since having knee surgery on Nov. 19.

Domi is Habs’ ironman

Max Domi will play in his 249th consecutive game Saturday, dating back to Jan. 31, 2017, which is the longest ironman streak on the Canadiens.

Next on the ironman list is Jeff Petry, who will play in his 247th consecutive game, and Artturi Lehkonen, who will play in his 183rd consecutive game.

Domi failed to score a goal in 12 January games and had only four assists, giving him 12-22-34 totals in 52 games. After scoring a career-high 28 goals last season, Domi is on pace for 19 this season.

Where the Canadiens rank

The Canadiens rank 17th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 3.02 goals per game, and rank 18th in defence, allowing an average of 3.10. They rank 14th on the power play (20.0 per cent), 23rd in penalty-killing (78.4 per cent) and 11th in faceoffs (50.5 per cent).

Tomas Tatar leads the Canadiens in scoring with 18-28-46 totals, followed by Phillip Danault (12-25-37), Domi (12-22-34), Brendan Gallagher (16-17-33) and Shea Weber (12-21-33).

Where the Panthers rank

The Panthers rank first in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 3.67 goals per game, and rank 25th in defence, allowing an average of 3.27. They rank fifth on the power play (24.5 per cent), 24th in penalty-killing (78.1 per cent) and 11th in faceoffs (50.5 per cent).

Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring with 18-47-65 totals, followed by Aleksander Barkov (16-38-54), Evgenii Dadonov (23-17-40), Mike Hoffman (18-22-40) and Keith Yandle (5-34-39).

Hoffman is on a 10-game point streak (5-8-13), while Barkov is on a six-game point streak (3-6-9).

What’s next?

After the back-to-back weekend games, the Canadiens will practise at 10:45 a.m. Monday in Brossard before heading to New Jersey, where they will play the Devils on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens will then return home for games at the Bell Centre against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, SN1, SNE, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).