The Montreal Canadiens and Atlanta Thrashers face off tonight at the Bell Centre, in their fourth and final match of the regular season.
Atlanta is a team struggling to keep themselves mathematically "alive" in the playoff race, whereas Montreal is just trying to get back on the rails.
The Habs are on a three-game losing streak, have won only three of their last nine games and have been shutout in their last three games. They looked to avoid tying the franchise record—being shut out four games in a row—tonight.
The last time the Habs were shut out in four straight was from February 14-26, 1928.
The Thrashers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 5-4 shootout win over the Senators on Sunday. However, with 76 points and only seven games left, it seems highly unlikely they'll be playing hockey past the end of the regular season.
Atlanta holds a 2-1 season series edge over Montreal with the Habs winning the last battle, 3-1 at the beginning of March.
The Canadiens are in sixth overall in the East with 87 points and six games left to play. The Habs haven't done themselves any favors lately, losing all but three of their last nine.
Whereas they once had a nine-point lead on ninth overall in the East and a comfortable seven points on the Rangers, they are now tied with New York for points, two ahead of the Sabres for eighth place and seven ahead of Carolina for ninth.
The Habs can still catch the Lightning, who are in fifth with 91 points and have been in a tailspin for a month.
Atlanta's playoff hopes are all but dead. Still, these are professional athletes; while they are only mathematically alive, they still want the win.
The Thrashers are 11th overall in the East with 76 points and seven games left. A win tonight would move them into a tie with the Leafs for 10th overall.
Carey Price, who has been the only Canadiens player to show up for the last three games, will be getting his 67th start of the season. He will be looking for his first win in five starts.
With Chris Mason getting the last three starts for the Thrashers, he should get the call for Atlanta. The only X-factor in that decision is that Ondrej Pavelec started both Thrashers wins against Montreal this season.
Mason started the only game they lost.
Scoring and Special Teams
This is a pretty cut-and-dried situation with the Thrashers having a more potent offense than Montreal, but seriously lacking on the defensive side of the game.
Atlanta has the 18th best goal-for at 2.7 per game, the 11th overall power play at 18.7 percent, the 28th goals-against at 3.2 per game and the 29th penalty kill at 76.7 percent.
The Habs, on the other hand, struggle to score with the 23rd overall goals-for at 2.6 per game. Their recent goal-scoring drought has also dropped their PP to 10th overall at 18.8 percent. On the defensive side of the puck, Montreal is still relatively strong, with the ninth best goals-against at 2.5 per game and the ninth best PK at 83.8 percent.
Roster Changes and Injuries
The sole change for the Habs is that Mathieu Darche is expected to get a shot on the second line. As such, Montreal’s lines for tonight look like this:
Michael Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Jeff Halpern
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Benoit Pouliot- David Desharnais - Ryan White
The Habs continue to be without the services of Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov, Alexandre Picard, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty.
The Thrashers are a relatively healthy bunch with only Jim Slater, Freddy Meyer and Patrice Cormier out of the lineup.
Key to Victory
If there was ever a game that should help Montreal break out of their goalless slump, it's tonight against the defensively suspect Thrashers.
Montreal needs to get their transition game going and attack the Thrashers with speed. If they do that, they should be able to draw penalties and create scoring opportunities.
For the much larger Thrashers, they need to lean on the Habs, chip the puck behind their D and engage a grinding cycle. If they are able to do that, as they have done twice this season, it will tire the smaller Canadiens and should lead to defensive breakdowns and scoring chances.
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/