Jose Theodore knows a thing or two about stopping the puck. After taking a well-needed rest last night in Montreal, Jose is back in game-mode and prepared for a new test, ready to take on an always worthy opponent, Ilya Kovalchuk and his Atlanta Thrashers (7:30, RDS, CJAD-800). In the last meeting between the two teams, a 2-1 Montreal victory on December 29th, Theodore stymied Kovalchuk time and time again on eight different shots. With 48 points in 44 games, you won’t have to look very hard to see the fire in Kovalchuk’s eyes tonight. While Theodore’s eyes may be hidden through his mask, you can find that same fire from head to toe on the Habs keeper, as his sparkling 5-1-1 record, 1.27 GAA, and .951 SV% over the past seven games have him back amongst the league’s best goaltenders.
With 35 points so far, six of which have come in the past two games, Mike Ribeiro is proving to be an incredibly reliable scoring threat for the Habs, and an increasingly dangerous secondary offensive weapon, behind Saku Koivu. After being named last night’s first star, Ribeiro, who’s 35 points are the 14th most in the entire NHL, will look to help in leading his teammates to their third straight win, and 23rd on the year, tonight in Atlanta.
In 20 games since December 5th, Ribeiro has notched 20 points. While he is severly undersized around the waist in comparison to your typical NHL centreman, Ribeiro is using every inch of his 177 pound frame, and has shown great improvement in fending off defenders and working harder when not carrying the puck. Not to be outdone, Saku Koivu also posted a pair of assists last night, his tenth and eleventh points in his past ten contests. Koivu has 26 points, 7 of which are goals, in 26 games since November 18th. Fans were treated to another spectacular game by their captain last night, as he made a pair of nice plays en route to goals by his always useful linemates, Jan Bulis and Michael Ryder.
Andreas Dackell, who was kept out of last night’s game with a knee injury, may return tonight, although Jason Ward played a fine, energetic game in his place on the third line. Andrei Markov, who learned he is now not only battling a hip injury, but an infected foot, will also continue to see the game in his street clothes. Another player who missed last night’s game, or the majority of it, was Francois Bouillon. Bouillon was handed a 5:00 major, to go along with a game misconduct after dumping a Ryan Johnson on a vicous hit. He will return to the team tonight in Atlanta. Tomas Plekanec will likely remain a healthy scratch tonight, although Yanic Perrreault’s current trip into camoflauge mode doesn’t bode well for the veteran’s future with the club. Pierre Dagenais had a three game goal streak snapped last night, but look for those hands to be magnetically attracted to the front of the goal all night long.
Marc Savard, the victim of a well deserved Sheldon Souray hit in the teams’ last meeting ( a revenge hit if you will, after Savard had some nasty flying elbows for Koivu in the previous game) , missed three games but should be back on the ice tonight. Some valuable advice: keep your head up this time, pal. Pasi Nurminen should get his first start against the Habs this year. The Finnish netminder is 15-15-3, but has struggled over his past two games, posting a barf-esque 3.80 GAA, and an even more disgusting .848 SV%. The 28-year-old netminder will hope to lead his struggling mates to their 20th win on the year (good luck!). A victory would be their first since Boxing Day, December 26th. The Thrashers will, however, be helped by the expected return of Serge Aubin to the lineup. The 6’1, Val-d’Or native has 16 points and is a +3 in 35 games. Andy Sutton (fractured foot), Tomas Kloucek (shoulder), Jeff Cowan (concussion), and of course Dany Heatley are all unlikely to dress for Atlanta, although Cowan and Kloucek are only day-to-day. A special get well message to former Hab Bill Linday. The pesky winger who gave it his all during the Habs’ playoff run of 2001-02 suffered a fractured larynx, a rather serious injury, and should miss the remainder of the campaign.