The Montreal Canadiens play the last game of their three game home stand against the struggling Atlanta Thrashers. Both teams are riding three game losing streaks; tonight’s win will provide a relief for only one team. The Thrashers have blown the lead in the third period of play for each of the past 2 games, so they will be looking for some better results against the Habs. The Canadiens have also been struggling, losing 6 of their last 8 games; despite their difficulties, the Habs remain in the 4th position in the Eastern conference.
Many of the Canadiens’ players have or have had the flu, and that has had a visible affect on their play over the past few games. With the loss of centres Saku Koivu and Radek Bonk to the flu and an injury, Montreal was forced to call up two rookie centres from Hamilton, Maxim Lapierre and Mikhail Grabovsky. Grabovsky, a Belarusian who speaks little to no English, played strictly on the 2nd line with Russians Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov. The rookie fit in very well with the veterans, generating some good scoring opportunities, including a goal that was called back by the referee in last Saturday night’s loss to the Rangers. Lapierre, and all the other Habs forwards, have been juggled around on their lines by head Coach Guy Carbonneau, in the hope that the moves will provide some positive results. Another Habs centre, Tomas Plekanec, also missed the last game, so it’s unclear who will play at centre for tonight’s game. The team was given the day off Monday from practicing.
The Thrashers are expecting one of their top forwards, Slava Kozlov, to return to the lineup tonight. His presence will be welcomed, as he had been suffering from a terrible headache after taking a puck to the head from Phoenix forward Ladislav Nagy last Friday. After meeting with team doctors, he rested for two days, and then practiced with the team yesterday, showing no ill effects from the incident. His contributions are significant to his team, as he’s tied for 2nd on the team with scoring, and plays very well with Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk on the power play.
Although the flu has been a negative factor against the Canadiens, it is a challenge that most every team faces at some point. A few seasons ago, Atlanta went through the same thing with most of his players. “Viruses can hit you any day. … Your lines are messed up, your preparation is messed up,” he said. “That’s part of everybody’s life. People in companies, you get employees sick. There’s nothing you can do to control this.”
Habs Notes: Rumours are floating around that Garth Murray or Aaron Downey’s last games in a Montreal uniform may be near. The strong play of Lapierre and Grabovsky may force GM Bob Gainey to move one or both of these players, either through a trade or a demotion to the minors, before the end of this season….In the previous match with Atlanta on November 18, Montreal won 3-1, with Radek Bonk leading the way with a goal and assist, and Cristobal Huet stopping 39 shots…Habs forward Tomas Plekanec had a hot scoring hand before his bout with the flu, managing 3 goals and an assist in his last 3 games.
Atlanta Notes: The Thrashers arrived in Montreal Saturday night, and took the time to rest and enjoy the sights…Atlanta, enjoying a good season, hopes to make their first playoff appearance this year. They are currently at 56 points, which is first in the Southeast division, and 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference.