In Montreal, the 2011 NHL trade deadline has once again come and gone with little fanfare. And while fans are wringing their hands over another uneventful deadline by GM Pierre Gauthier, the players are surely breathing a sigh of relief as they can now focus entirely on hockey.
Despite adding Brent Sopel, Paul Mara and James Wizniewski over the course of the season, Habs' GM Pierre Gauthier was unable to land that coveted scoring winger to slot in to his top-six.
As such, the roster remained unchanged on deadline day, save for the demotion of Ryan White to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
With the deadline behind them, the Canadiens take on the Atlanta Thrashers tonight in Atlanta, officially kicking off the home stretch.
Tonight's game is the third of four meetings between the teams this season. The Thrashers have won the first two contests.
Coming off a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal is sixth in the Eastern Conference with 73 points and a 33-23-7 record. Despite the victory and winning two out of their last three games, the Habs have only three victories in their last 10 games (3-5-2). Fortunately for Montreal, most of the teams around them have also been struggling to string together wins, allowing the Canadiens to maintain a three-point cushion over the seventh place Rangers.
While the Habs have certainly not been tearing up the league lately, the Thrashers have been in a definite free fall.
Atlanta is coming off a 4-3 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs—a win that snapped a five-game losing streak. Despite the win, Atlanta has only two victories over their last 11 games (2-7-2) and has fallen out of playoff contention as a result.
The Thrashers are currently tied with the Leafs for 10th place in the East—four points out of a playoff spot—with 63 points and a 26-26-11 record.
With Carey Price missing the Canadiens game against the Canes due to illness, there is no official word yet on whether or not he will get the start tonight. If he will well enough, expect to see him in the net.
With Ondrej Pavelec still listed as day-to-day, look for Chris Mason—who has started the last two games and is coming off a victory—to get the call for Atlanta.
Special Teams and Scoring
The Thrashers have an acceptable offense, averaging 2.8 goals per game (13th overall) and the eighth overall power play at 19.7 percent efficiency. It is on the defensive side of the puck that Atlanta's game falls off the map.
They have the 26th best goals-against at 3.1 per game and the 28th penalty kill at 77.3 percent efficiency.
Montreal, on the other hand, scores an anemic 26th overall 2.6 goals per game. However, it has the 10th best goals-against at 2.6 per game, the ninth best PP at 19.4 percent and the 10th best PK at 83.3 percent.
As such, if Montreal can get the puck behind the Thrashers defenders and cycle with speed, they should be able to draw penalties for some good scoring chances against a weak Thrashers PK.
Aside from the recent acquisition of Brent Sopel and demotion of Ryan White to the Bulldogs, the Habs lineup will basically be identical to the one that defeated the Canes on Saturday.
Brent Sopel, acquired last week by the Canadiens, will be facing his former team for the first time.
The Habs are still without long-term injured players Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov, while Jaroslav Spacek and Mathieu Darche continue to be on the injury reserve.
There is still no official prognosis on either player.
The Thrashers added and subtracted a bevy of players leading up to the deadline with the hope of turning around a fading season. Despite their changes, the Thrashers continue to be without the services of Jim Slater, Freddy Meyer, Ondrej Pavelec, Patrice Cormier and Alexander Burmistrov.
Game time is at 7:00 PM.
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