January 31, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) makes a save on a shot against the New York Islanders at the RBC center. The Islanders defeated the Hurricanes 5-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

Carolina Hurricanes Blow Into Bell Centre Tonight To Face Habs

Your Montreal Canadiens are the hottest team in the East and only Phoenix, having won its last 5, is hotter in the NHL.  When was the last time that a fan of le bleu-blanc-rouge was able to boast an such a thing?!  In fact, one would have to look back to the stretch between Oct. 26th and Nov. 4th when the team beat the Flyers, the Bruins (twice in a row) and the Senators in putting together their only other extended winning streak of the year.  I am proud of the Habs` recent play and i commend the team for its efforts.  I am certain that piling up the wins is doing wonders for the team`s confidence, an essential tool in any successful organization’s arsenal.  Success breeds success…it is indeed that simple.  You can already see positive changes in the performance of key players, notably: Carey Price (4 goals against in four games with two shutouts in the span), Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais.  What came first, you ask?  I’m guessing that the wins initially led to the swagger and that the swagger eventually yielded more wins.

While i certainly hope to be proven wrong, i almost always cringe when a weak opponent comes to town.  Les Canadiens de Montreal is a squad that routinely fails to deliver the effort required to secure two points when facing a “weak“ adversary.  No game is a gimme.  This has been proven way too many times in this league.  It is my hope that the coaching staff will be able to bring out the killer instinct that will enable it to soundly demonstrate to the Carolina Hurricanes that a franchise ranking dead last in the East will not be allowed to derail the Habs`winning ways.  Montreal has won both contests thus far against Carolina this season.

The 27th ranked ‘Canes storm into The Bell Centre having lost its last 2 games both in OT to the Avalanche and to the Ducks.  They have played the same number of games as le tricolore and a mere 4 points separate the teams.  Naturally, it would be in the Habs’ best interests to flog this dead horse so that failing to do so never comes back to haunt them.  There was a point during which i might have imagined that Kirk Muller and Jaro Spacek had found a refuge from the Hell that had become Montreal but now i believe that they have to be a tad jealous looking in…looking up…

I suppose that a statistical analysis involving the 15th ranked team in the East is somewhat moot.  I cannot ignore it altogether though…the Hurricanes rank 11th in goals for (142) and 14th in goals against (172).  The differential between the two is a catastrophic minus 30.  Only 30th-seeded Columbus has a more significant discrepancy (minus 54) in this regard.  Imagine how the team would fare without Cam Ward to backstop them?!  He has participated in 49 games (one more game than busy, busy netminder Carey Price) and sports a .912 SP and 2.79 GAA.  While these numbers are not stellar, they are by no means disastrous either.  Investigating a little bit deeper into this conundrum, I found that only one team allows more shots against per game.  Carolina surrenders 31.9 each outing while the Sens allow 32.0.  Defense, then, seems to be an issue for the visitors and Montreal must find a way to capitalize on that.

Of the top 5 point getters for the Huricanes, Captain Eric Staal, Chad Larose, Jeff Skinner, and Jussi Jokinen, are all in the negative as far as plus/minus is concerned.  Only Tuomo Ruutu has managed to keep his head above water in this regard.  For the Habs, 3 of the top 5 have put up positive stats in this category.  Tomas Plekanec is a minus-12 but it must be noted that he is always used in shorthanded situations.

Hey, ready for some awesome news?  Good!  Ryan White has been called up from Hamilton where he was engaging in a very successful conditioning stint.  White manged 5 points in 4 games with the Bulldogs (4 goals and 1 assist).  Not bad for a guy who has not played a single regular season game this year.  Not bad at all.  Interestingly enough, Ian Schultz has also been called up to the big team.  Remember that Schultz was one component in the trade that sent Halak to the Blues and brought Lars Eller into the Canadiens’ family.  Schultz has posted more modest numbers with 3 goals and 10 assists in 36 games with the farm-team.  No, he is not a defenseman…in fact he plays right wing…

Aside from the usual suspects who will not be dressing this evening (Markov, Gionta, Blunden, Nokelainen), Yannick Weber and Travis Moen are listed as doubtful for tonight.  The Canes will be without the services of defenseman Joni Pitkanen who has been out with, you guessed it, a concussion since November.  Man Alive, the league absolutely MUST find a way to deal with this epidemic.

A word of advice to my beloved Habs: Do not take Carolina lightly.  Stay focused and get the 2 points that you so desperately need.  You will need to play 60 minutes.  Do not let up even for a second.  Go Habs Go!

 

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