The playoffs must be around the corner. Every game the Montreal Canadiens have played lately have been four-point matches.
Tonight is no different as the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning will be visiting the Bell Centre for the fourth and final regular season match between these two clubs.
Tampa took the first two games, and Montreal took the third in Tampa just over ten days ago.
Only four points separate these two teams in the Eastern Conference standings.
Montreal is sixth overall in the East with 83 points, and the Lightning is fifth overall 87 points. Both teams have played 70 games.
A win by the Lightning would give them a comfortable six-point buffer over Montreal, while also bringing them to within one point of the fourth overall Penguins.
For Montreal, this game is an opportunity to close the gap on the Lightning and the Boston Bruins. Boston also has 87 points to date.
There is no word yet on which goaltender will start for either team, but one would bet that Carey Price will get the call for Montreal. The Habs are also playing again tomorrow in New York against the Rangers. Coaches often like to play the backup in the second of back-to-back games, as teams tend to play tighter defensively in front of their backups.
Either way, with the Rangers tomorrow and the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, it is possible that Alex Auld could be in the net as soon as tonight.
For Tampa, despite winning their last game 6-2 over the Toronto Maple Leafs, they have been in a free fall since the beginning of March. They are 2-4-2 over their last eight games.
As such, it is a bit of a mystery as to who will be getting the call in goal for. However, Dwayne Roloson has gotten six of the last eight starts for Tampa, so he will likely get the nod.
Scoring and Special Teams
Tonight's contest is a clear-cut matchup of offense versus defense. However, given the Habs depleted lineup, Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern joined the team clinic last game, Montreal will be missing some key parts of their defense-first game.
Tampa is a scoring machine, averaging 2.9 goals per game, good for sixth overall, and the sixth best power play in the league at 20.7 percent efficiency. On the defensive side of the puck, Tampa sits just 24th overall in goals-against at 2.9 per game, and a respectable 11th overall penalty kill at 83.3 percent efficiency.
Montreal's numbers are pretty much reversed with the 23rd overall goals-for at 2.6 per game, the seventh best PP at 19.7 percent. The Habs also host the eighth best goals-against at 2.5 per game and the seventh best PK at 83.9 percent efficiency.
A key problem for Montreal is that Plekanec and Halpern are two of their best penalty killers. In addition, Plekanec has been playing the point on the first PP unit, so his absence from the lineup is a massive loss for the Habs.
Injuries and Roster Changes
The Habs, who seem to lose another player to injury every game, will be playing without Brent Sopel, Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern who are all day-to-day. They'll also be without key defensemen Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges who are relegated to the injured reserve.
That's six key players that are out of the lineup for Montreal!
Tampa too has their share of problems with Pavel Kubina serving a suspension and Randy Jones and Steve Downie are day-to-day. Meanwhile, Ryan Malone is out on the injury reserved list.
With the recent injuries to Plekanec and Halpern, the Habs have called up Nigel Dawes and Aaron Palushaj to make their season debuts with Montreal.
It's pretty simple here: offense versus defense. Although with two of the Habs best defensive forwards out of the lineup, all eyes will be on Dawes and Palushaj to see how they perform.
With no word yet on how Jacques Martin intends to compose his lines tonight, Palushaj in particular, will be a player to watch as he could end up seeing time in the top-six.
Game time is at 7:30 PM.
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/