The struggling Montreal Canadiens play the Thrashers in Atlanta tonight. Since their last encounter 9 days ago, a 4-2 win by the Habs, the fortunes of the two teams have reversed. Atlanta has won their last 2 games, by a margin on 10-5; previously they had lost their previous 5 games. Montreal, has lost their last 3 games by a 14-3 margin, and has lost 9 of their last 13. Their last two games were both shutout losses.
To the Habs advantage is a winning record against Atlanta this season. In their first match on November 18, the Canadiens won 3-1. When the two teams faced each other on January 9, both entered the game on three game losing streaks, but the Habs were able to break that trend. In both games, Michael Ryder was named the first star; he managed 2 goals and one assist in the last game, and one goal in the first game against the Thrashers.
To defeat the Thrashers on their home ice will not be an easy task. Their top scorer, Marian Hossa, just registered a hat trick in their last game. It was Hossa’s second hat trick of the season, and the sixth of his career. He is now tied for the league lead in goals scored. “It feels good, especially that we won not by one goal but by a couple goals,” Hossa said. “We make it easy on ourselves, and it just feels great.” Shutting down his line will be a difficult task for the Habs tonight, particularly since Atlanta has the last line change advantage, and will certainly not place his line against the Habs effective checking line.
In December, Head coach Guy Carbonneau had commented to the press how the team chemistry and mood have been very good to date. The team was playing very well, and team harmony was at a high level. In recent games, Carbonneau has been juggling the forward lines like a busker, in the hope that he can shake the team out of their doldrums. Regulars such as Sergei Samsonov, who has been struggling all season, and assistant captain Craig Rivet, were both healthy scratches for the last game against Vancouver. For the Habs to be successful tonight, they will need to score first, and provide some consistent, mistake minimum plays throughout the entire 60 minutes.
Starting Goalies: Montreal, Cristobal Huet; Atlanta, Kari Lehtonen
Habs Notes: Garth Murray was placed on waivers, and had cleared them on noon January 17. The team has not yet sent him to the AHL Hamilton farm team, but has 30 days to do so. This may be a sign of a possible trade, or it may be due to insurance in case another Canadien forward becomes injured before the 30 day deadline is up….When Craig Rivet was a healthy scratch on January 16, his consecutive games streak of 153 came to an end. Rivet and Sergei Samsonov are expected back in tonight’s lineup, while Janne Niinimaa and Aaron Downey will be healthy scratches.
Atlanta Notes: After Marian Hossa scored his hat trick in the last game, over 150 hats were tossed onto the ice. In older days, they were gathered up by the arena staff then after the game was over, they offered to the player who scored the three goals. Usually, one was kept as a memento for the scorer. In Atlanta, the hats are collected, cleaned up, and then put in a display case in the arena, along with a description of the hat trick event.