Tuesday, February 22, 2011
12:11 PM Kamal Panesar No comments
With the Canadiens on a three-game losing streak and the trade deadline only six days away, the burning question on Habs addicts' minds today is: do I really have to stay up until 1:00 AM Eastern just to watch Montreal lose?
Admit it, that's what's in the back of your mind, isn't it?
Tonight's game is the third and final match on this so far miserable road trip for the Habs, and will once again feature a really hot team versus a really cold team.
The Canadiens are 4-4-2 over their last 10 games and are on their worst stretch since going 5-8-1 through the month of December. Montreal is 1-4-2 over their last seven games and clearly trending in the wrong direction.
Despite their horrific record of late, the Canadiens somehow remain in sixth place overall in the East with 69 points, as no one behind them in the standings seems to be able to string together victories.
Montreal is three points up on the New York Rangers for seventh, five points up on the Hurricanes for eighth and a full nine points up on the ninth place Sabres.
In fact, aside from the Bruins and Capitals who each have two straight wins, no team in the top-12 of the Eastern conference is on anything more than a one-game streak, helping the Habs to stay in contention.
The playoff picture is much clearer and brighter for the Canucks who with a 38-13-9 record, 85 points in the standings and a 7-3-0 record over their last ten games are the top team in the NHL.
Vancouver holds a five-point lead over the second place (in the West) Red Wings and a whopping 15-point lead over the second place (in the Northwest division) Calgary Flames.
Carey Price, who is 0-for-2 attempts in Vancouver, will be trying to get his first career win against his home province Canucks. After being benched his first time in Vancouver in favour of Jaroslav Halak and getting shelled 7-1 in his second visit, Price will have fire in his belly and be aching to pull out a victory with friends and family in attendance.
The story is almost equally interesting in the other net with Montreal native, Roberto Luongo, getting his 46th start of the season. Luongo is 11-0-3 with a sparkling 1.81 goals-against average in his last 14 home starts to go with the Canucks incredible 21-4-5 home record this season.
To say that the Habs—who have been outscored 8-1 over two games so far on this road trip—have their work cut out for them would be a massive understatement.
Special Teams and Scoring
This is where it gets really ugly for the Canadiens, or at least for their chances of winning tonight.
The Canucks have the No.1 goals-for in the league at 3.3 per game, the No.1 goals-against at 2.3 per game, the No.1 power play at 25.1 percent and the No.4 penalty kill at 85.5 percent.
Talk about a juggernaut!
Montreal, on the other hand, is 25th overall with 2.5 goals-for per game, ninth with 2.5 goals-against per game, ninth with an 18.7 percent power play and seventh with an 84.2 percent PK.
Needless to say, Montreal will be facing a huge defensive challenge and a will need a serious trend reversal from their anemic offense to score on the hermetic Vancouver D.
They would also do well to stay out of the penalty box.
Despite getting Hal Gill and Michael Cammalleri back in the lineup last game, the Canadiens are still dealing with the losses of Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Mathieu Darche and Jaroslav Spacek.
With the team in a tailspin and the offense sputtering, Jacques Martin has taken out his bingo machine and is seemingly picking numbers at random to form his lines. If we go by the lines at yesterday's practice, the Canadiens lineup should look something like this:
Jeff Halpern - Tomas Plekanec - Michael Cammalleri
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Benoit Pouliot - David Desharnais - Ryan White
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Halpern on the top line at wing, rather than center, is a bit of a head-scratcher considering he has been the Habs' best faceoff man this season. That being said, reuniting Pouliot, Desharnais and White is a solid move as they have been the Habs most consistent line over the last five games or so.
Despite their tremendous success this season, the Canucks have a long litany of injuries including six players on the injury reserve—Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard, Alexander Edler, Alexandre Bolduc, Rick Rypien and Lee Sweatt.
Defenseman Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard are both skating and could return to the lineup as soon as tonight.
The Canadiens have not won in Vancouver since November 2000 and Carey Price has never won a game in his home province. Both the team and the player will be trying to reverse those trends tonight.
Game time is 10:00 PM Eastern.
New Sunday Shinny
With Nick home sick with strep throat, Gary Whittaker and Kamal Panesar welcome Kevin Mio, online editor of the Montreal Gazette to the Shinny.
-we play the role of GM of the Canadiens, and define the team needs going into the trade deadline
-we evaluate the current level of value that the Canadiens have to offer
-we look ahead to the Heritage Classic game in Calgary
Click play below to listen in (listing time 39:45):
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)