Let’s just imagine for a second that Montreal’s visit to the decrepit Nassau Coliseum is successful and that they defeat the New York Islanders in regulation time…what then??? Such an outcome might just catapult the Habs into 11th place in the East representing a significant improvement over their 15th place ranking last Saturday. Why am i even thinking along these lines? I was confident that i had accepted that there would be no spot reserved in the post-season for my beloved Habs. I reckon that i have not found closure just yet…maybe, just maybe we can get by with a little help from our friends…probably most of you have stopped reading by now discrediting me as a lunatic?!
Montreal has lost many valuable points over the past couple of seasons in routinely failing to show up for games against the underwhelming Isles. Perhaps the prognosis for tonight is more promising now that the New York team ranks above them in the standings. The Islanders sit in 11th place only one point ahead of 13th ranked Montreal but they enjoy two games in hand over Le Tricolore. The teams have squared off twice so far this season with each team having won in their home game.
Since the All-Star Break, the Islanders have won 3 (1 in regulation, 1 in OT, and 1 in SO) and lost 1 (a 1-0 shootout loss to Buffalo). Montreal lost their first 3 games coming out of the break before putting together a modest 2 game winning streak (including a very, very rare shootout win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night).
Both Carey Price and Evgeni Nabokov are hot of late and can boast recent shutouts. Carey shut out the visiting Jets on Sunday while Nabokov led his team to a 1-0 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. He stopped 45 shots in the process. This one should be a great goaltending duel to watch! Nabokov ranks 9th in GAA surrendering 2.21 goals per game and he ranks 7th overall with a .925 save percentage. He has played in 26 games so far. Carey Price, a far busier netminder who has participated in 46 games ranks 15th as far as GAA is concerned sporting a 2.37 GAA. His save percentage of .916 is good enough for 23rd spot. Not the numbers that he put up last season but still pretty good considering the disastrous season that the team as a whole has put together.
Montreal does hold a slight edge in 5 on 5 play. The team has managed to improve significantly in this regard while inexplicably losing its former excellence on the power play which now ranks dead last in the league (12.3% efficiency). Catastrophe! The Isles PP which enjoys a 19.4% success rate ranks 7th overall. How good would Islander Captain Mark Streit look in a Montreal Canadiens uniform right now. Naturally, the Habs’ dominance in the penalty kill should help to counter the Islander attack but it certainly would be in the team’s best interest to play a disciplined game. The Isles kill 85% of penalties and sit in 8th position in this regard. They should not have too much trouble containing Montreal when the latter enjoys (struggles???) with the man advantage!
The Islanders can boast that they have one forward ranking within the top 10 point getters. John Tavares, in 10th spot, has 53 points in 52 games. Not bad…not bad at all. Isle PA Parenteau ranks 24th with 47 points. In stark contrast, Montreal forward Eric Cole who has been a spectacular addition to the Montreal roster, and who leads the team in scoring ranks 54th in the league with 39 points. Max Pacioretty with 38 points for the Habs ranks 60th overall.
Injuries have played a key role in the seasons of both teams. Montreal has yet to enjoy the services of All-Star defenecman Andrei Markov. Same goes for gritty and intense Ryan White who suffered an abdominal injury in an exhibition game. He, at least, has been assigned to the Hamilton Buldogs for a conditioning stint so expect to see him back in the lineup shortly. Captain Brian Gionta who represents determination and drive on this team is likely out for the remainder of the season as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn bicep. Petteri Nokelainen and Mike Blunden are the most recent soldiers to fall. The Habs will miss the size and energy that Blunden brings to the game each night. He may lack finesse but he creates space and plays a physical and inspiring game. So, Louie Leblanc and Aaron Palushaj from the farm-team should both be in the lineup on Thursday.
The Isles defensive corps is depleted. Travis Harmonic and Dylan Reese are down for the count. Milan Jurcina is questionable. Montreal must find a way to capitalize on this. Goaltender Rick DiPietro is also injured. Man Alive, it seems that he is never healthy! While I believe that he can be an excellent goaltender he either lacks the durability required to contribute adequately to his team or he sure has been a victim of some unbelievably bad luck. Get better Rick…we would love to see you healthy and in action! Alternatively, you an consider pursuing a career in broadcasting!
I`m going out on a limb here: Scott Gomez will end his scoring drought. The floodgates have to open at some point and no time like a road-game with no pressure in Long Island to allow Scottie to regain his form. It is generally acknowledged that he is playing solid hockey and that he, like Rick DiPietro, is the victim of a year`s worth of bad breaks! Your Habs will emerge victorious on Thursday…you heard it here first!!
Go Habs Go!