Fresh off the heels of a well-earned 3-2 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens take on the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden.
With seven points separating these two teams in the standings and the playoffs only 11 games away, this is sure to be a tightly contested match.
Tonight's match is the fourth and final game between the two teams this season with Montreal winning the first three in tight, low-scoring affairs.
Montreal is sixth overall in the East with 85 points, three behind the Lightning and the Bruins, who have one game in hand. While the Habs are looking up in the standings, the Rangers, who have won two straight games, are looking behind them.
New York is seventh overall in the East with 78 points, two ahead of the Sabres, who have one game in hand, and four ahead of the Hurricanes. The Rangers have struggled to find consistency this season and are on a bit of a slippery slope right now.
A few more wins and they could start to put some distance on the teams behind them. However, given the logjam in the standings, losing a few in a row might see the Rangers slide right out of the playoff picture.
As such, the Canadiens had better be ready for an intense match from the Rangers, who are well rested and ready to battle for a much-needed two points.
Carey Price was again a major factor in the Canadiens' victory over the Lightning yesterday, stopping 35 of 37 shots fired his way.
Unless he is too fatigued to play again, I fully expect Price to get the call tonight. With an inter-conference match against the Wild on Sunday, that would seem like the right time to start Alex Auld.
For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist will get his 16th straight start and his 58th of the season.
Scoring and Special Teams
The teams are relatively evenly matched with the Rangers having the 12th overall goals-for at 2.8 per game, the 15th-best power play at 17.7 percent, the sixth overall goals-against at 2.4 per game and the 13th penalty kill at 83.1 percent.
Montreal, by comparison, has the 23rd goals-for at 2.6 per game, the seventh-best PP at 19.4 percent, the eighth goals-against at 2.5 per game and the ninth-best PK at 83.5 percent.
So there really is not a lot between these two teams statistically speaking, which explains the three close games so far.
Roster Changes and Injuries
Same old, same old for the Canadiens who continue to play without nine regulars from their lineup—Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek, Brent Sopel, Mathieu Darche, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Halpern and Hal Gill.
Gill, who missed last night's game due to a flu bug, could be back in the lineup depending on how he is feeling today.
Neither Plekanec nor Halpern accompanied the Canadiens on their road trip, meaning neither will be in action this weekend. Their absences will keep Nigel Dawes and Aaron Palushaj in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
The Rangers are a relatively healthy team, save for Chris Drury, Alexander Frolov and Derek Boogaard who are all on the injury reserve.
Game time is at 7:00 PM EDT.
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/
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