Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Pick & Prediction NOVEMBER 7th 2023

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The Montreal Canadiens will open a stretch of five of their next six games at home when they host coach Martin St. Louis’ former club, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the first of four meetings between the Atlantic Division foes.

The Canadiens, who went 0-2-1 on their recent road trip, are off to a similar start as last season, but some bright spots in the lineup have stood out.

Juraj Slafkovsky is one of those players whom St. Louis truly believes in and hopes will blossom into an elite forward.

In his second full season behind the bench for the legendary Habs, St. Louis made a bold move recently by elevating Slafkovsky, the overall No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, to the squad’s top line beside Cole Caufield and team captain Nick Suzuki.

The move paid off immediately.

Goalless and sporting just one assist through 10 matches, Slafkovsky notched his first of the season on a top-shelf beauty off a pass from Alex Newhook, the opening Montreal tally in its 6-3 loss at St. Louis on Saturday.

The power-play goal might have produced a collective sigh of relief from the red-white-and-blue faithful, but St. Louis said he never lost faith in the 19-year-old left wing.

“He looked comfortable,” the former Lightning star said after the Blues match. “When he was on the ice, I felt like something was happening. A lot of it had to do with some of his play, some of his decisions. . . . He’s made tremendous improvement away from the puck defensively. . . . Playing on that line, you’re going to get a tougher matchup.

“(Caufield and Suzuki) are getting the big body that can skate. And I still think Slaf’s going to be a guy who scores goals in this league.”

As a rookie last season, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Slovakian produced only four goals and six assists in 39 games.

In Toronto on Monday night, the Lightning squandered a third-period lead for the second time in the past three games.

It was also the second time it happened against the Leafs this season.

Just like in Tampa on Oct. 21, coach Jon Cooper’s bunch bolted to an early lead against the Leafs, forced goaltender Ilya Samsonov to the bench and was in position to win before seeing it all unravel in the final 20 minutes.

For the fourth time this season, Tampa Bay was taken to overtime, lost the opening draw, had the puck on its stick for a scant second or two and fell in the three-on-three session.

The club is 0-4 in overtime games this season and has been outshot 14-0 in the extra frame.

More importantly to Cooper than the overtime record is how his group got there: losing those leads.

On their trip thus far through Columbus, Ottawa and Toronto, the Lightning are 1-1-1, failing to hold leads in two of the third periods and letting a trio of points slip away.

“We only have three points to show for it,” Cooper said of the trip, which began with a 4-2 loss in Coumbus after carrying a 2-1 lead into the third period. “If you want to make sure you’re a playoff team, you’ve got to close those games out. We feel like we’ve left three points on the table.”

With netminder Jonas Johansson playing the front end in Toronto of the back-to-back, there is a strong chance Matt Tomkins could make his third career NHL start in Montreal and again go for his elusive first win.

–Field Level Media

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