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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canadiens Game Day: Habs Look to Build On Win, Closeout Hurricanes

by Kamal Panesar

The Carolina Hurricanes have a date with destiny tonight.

3-2 shootout winners against the Washington Capitals yesterday, they welcome the Montreal Canadiens to Raleigh this evening in another must-win game.

With the season winding down and teams ahead of them winning, the Canes are running out of time to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the task doesn't get any easier as they have not fared very well against the Canadiens this season.

This will be the fourth and final game between these teams, and Montreal holds a 3-0-0 record in the previous three games. The Habs have outscored the Canes 14-7 over three games, while limiting them to one power play goal.

A loss by the Canes would be a crippling blow to their fading playoff hopes.

Montreal will be looking to create a little momentum after snapping a three-game losing streak against the Thrashers last night. A win by the Habs would give them some much needed breathing room in the standings.


Standings

Carolina is ninth overall in the East with 82 points in 76 games. Despite their position, they are only three points behind the Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot. As such, you would expect them to play an intense, desperate brand of playoff hockey tonight.

Montreal is sixth in the East with 89 points in 77 games. The Habs have not been playing great hockey for the last few weeks, despite winning last night against the Thrashers.

As such, they can't rest of their laurels and need to be ready for a big game tonight.

A win by Montreal would inch them closer to the fifth overall Lightning, while also giving them some distance on the Rangers.


Goaltending

Both teams played and won last night.

That being said, with neither team playing again until Saturday, I fully expect Carey Price and Cam Ward to get the starts for their respective teams.


Scoring and Special Teams

As is the case with most of the Canadiens' opponents, Carolina has more potent offense but weaker defense than Montreal.

The Canes have the 14th overall goals-for at 2.8 per game (214 total goals). Their power play is surprisingly weak, however, 23rd overall at 15.9 percent. On the defensive side of the puck, Carolina is in the bottom third of the league with the 22nd best goals-against at 2.9 per game (226), and the 20th power play at 81.0 percent.

Montreal continues to have trouble scoring goals and are 24th with 2.6 goals per game (203 total goals). The Canadiens' PP has gone flat in recent weeks but still sits in 10th in the league at 18.5 percent.

The Habs are ninth overall averaging 2.5 goals-against per game (197 total goals) and have the ninth best PK at 83.9 percent.


Roster Changes and Injuries

Given Jacques Martin's trend of riding the hot hand, there should be no lineup changes for the Canadiens tonight.

That means that Tom Pyatt and Yannick Weber should continue to be healthy scratches.

Montreal continues to play without Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov, Alexandre Picard, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty.

The Canes are missing only Jay Harrison from their lineup, who is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.


Key to Victory

Montreal has to stick to the things that have made the successful against the Canes this season: excellent goaltending, cycling with speed, taking advantage of suspect Canes' defense and scoring on the power play.

At the same time, the Habs needs to respect the Hurricanes speed, which is considerable. As such, I would expect a typical sit-back-and-wait Jacques Martin style road-game from Montreal.

For the Canes, they absolutely have to keep the puck in the Canadiens end of the rink, as that is where they tend to excel. Despite the Habs' recent PP problem, the Canes would do well to avoid the penalty box given their weak PK.

Finally, like any team trying to beat Carey Price, the Canes have to crowd and crash his crease in order to try getting him off his game.

Game time is 7:00 PM.

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