The Montreal Canadiens are at home Tuesday night to face the struggling Florida Panthers. The Panthers are arriving in Montreal on a 3 game losing streak, while winning just once in the past 5 games. The Habs have won 3 of their last 5 games, including an impressive 2-1 overtime win over the league leading Buffalo Sabres Friday evening. The last time the two teams met was on November 16, when the Panthers triumphed over the Habs by a score of 5-1 in Miami.
The Panthers are a team with a very potent power play, currently ranked 2nd in the league. Conversely, the Habs penalty killing is ranked high at the 3rd position in the NHL. During the past 5 games, the Habs have allowed only 2 power play goals against in 27 chances; one of those 2 goals was scored by Florida on November 16. Watch for forwards Olli Jokinen & Jozef Stumpel, who have 9 and 8 points on the power play, while defenceman Ruslan Salei leads the team with 10 points with the man advantage. Sheldon Souray continues to dominate the Habs power play, with 7 goals and 15 points, followed by Saku Koivu with 11 points.
The Habs are expected to start Cristobal Huet in goal Tuesday night; Ed Belfour, based on his strong performance against the Habs November 16, is the Cat’s likely starter. Huet appears to have taken over the battle for the Habs #1 spot in net. After some strong play in October when David Aebischer won the monthly segment for the Molson Cup, he has struggled significantly so far in November. The Canadiens will have to be wary of a high shooting Florida team, which despite losing 1-0 last Saturday, managed 37 shots on goal, including 10 by Jokinen. The Habs checking line of Radek Bonk, Michael Johnson and Alexander Perezhogin will have their hands full with trying to shut down Jokinen’s line tonight.
Predicted Montreal Lineup:
Guillaume Latendresse – Saku Koivu – Michael Ryder
Sergei Samsonov – Tomas Plekanec – Alexei Kovalev
Mike Johnson – Radek Bonk – Alex Perezhogin
Garth Murray – Steve Begin – Mathieu Dandenault
Michael Komisarek – Andrei Markov
Sheldon Souray – Craig Rivet
Janne Niinimaa – Francis Bouillon
Scratches & Injuries: David Aebischer [scratch], Aaron Downey [scratch], Chris Higgins [high ankle sprain/ligaments; expected back December 7]
Predicted Florida Lineup:
Ville Peltonen – Olli Jokinen – Nathan Horton
Joe Nieuwendyk – Stephen Weiss – Gary Roberts
Martin Gelinas – Chris Gratton – Juraj Kolnik
Greg Jacina – Jozef Stumpel – Gregory Campbell
Branislav Mezei – Jay Bouwmeester
Ruslan Salei – Bryan Allen
Joel Kwiatowski – Mike Van Ryn
Scratches & Injuries: Alex Auld [scratch], Todd Bertuzzi [back surgery], Richard Jacman [scratch], Juraj Kolnik [shoulder, day-to-day], Mike Van Ryn [flu, day to day], Steve Montador [scratch]
With Chris Higgins, the Habs leading short handed goal scorer with 3, injured, his good friend Mike Komisarek has helped pick up the slack. Komisarek has potted 2 short handed goals in November…Alexander Perezhogin has managed an even or positive plus/minus rating in 21 of the team’s first 22 games; Radek Bonk has done the same feat in 19 of 22 games…Craig Rivet has played in 129 consecutive games since February 12, 2004…Sheldon Souray, with 15 points on the power play is tied for 3rd place amongst all NHL players.
Mike Van Ryn and Juraj Kolnik are hopefuls for Tuesday’s game, since the Florida management has just sent down 2 rookie players (Drew Larman & David Booth) to their AHL farm team; both forwards played in Saturday night’s game…Head coach Jacques Martin has the second most number of wins among active coaches with 444 …Panther’s defenceman Joel Kwiatkowski is the Florida counterpart to Habs defenceman Mathieu Dandenault. Both have been used at forward and defence this season….When Joe Nieuwendyk scored two goals on October 6th, he recorded his then 561st goal in the NHL, passing Montreal Canadien’s great Guy Lafleur for the 19th position on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list.