The Montreal Canadiens have traveled to the Big Apple, to take on the New York Rangers, in a match which is important to both team’s hopes to make it to the playoffs. The Habitants currently sit in 7th position in the Eastern conference with 72 points, while the Rangers are in 12th place in the East with 64 points. Clearly, there is very little room between the teams scrambling to climb or stay in the bottom 8 spots of the playoff picture.
The Canadiens GM Bob Gainey has made a couple of moves to help strengthen the team for the playoffs and improve them in the longer run. Gone to San Jose is long time veteran Craig Rivet; in exchange for him, Montreal obtained their 1st round pick in the 2007, and young defenceman Josh Gorges. In Gorges, they’ve received a similarly styled player, one that is defensive oriented. Josh is not as strong as Rivet, but does possess good skating ability, as well as a good first pass out of his zone. There’s been some criticism against Gorges that he is not a big enough player to handle NHL forwards, but he’s 10 years younger than Rivet, with a much cheaper salary. He stands a chance to improve, while San Jose has been making moves like this one and others (Bill Guerin trade today) to try and improve upon a good team that’s already in an excellent position to win the Stanley Cup this season.
In addition to the Rivet for Gorges trade, Gainey also obtained goalie Michael Leighton from Philadelphia on waivers. This move is an obvious one to shore up their goaltending, as the Canadiens must not be willing to let Jaroslav Halak sit in the backup role for the rest of the regular season, behind David Aebischer, while Cristobal Huet is injured. Leighton is a tall, lanky goalie, who has struggled with consistency in his short career. Michael is only 25 years old and should have some upside; however, the Canadiens represent the 4th team for his young career, which makes one wonder why he’s been given up by 3 other teams so far. The move likely signals the end of rookie goalie Jaroslav Halak, who has played well enough to help the Habs drag themselves out of a losing slump. Halak’s 3 wins versus one loss have helped to give the Canadiens some insight into his progress as a goaltending prospect for the organization. While Jaroslav was slated to get the start for tonight’s game, it’s unclear if that will still be the case with the Habs acquiring Leighton, who is currently in the East coast and may be able to join his new teammates in New York for the game.
The Rangers have been struggling lately, and hope that recent trades (Aaron Ward for Paul Mara) will help to improve their plight. Ward’s removal from the team was rumored to be linked to a shouting match between himself and Rangers superstar Jaromir Jagr. This occured around a month ago, on the team bench in the middle of a game on February 3 versus Tampa Bay. Jagr stated that an argument occurred when he criticized Ward for dumping the puck into the Lightning zone, instead of waiting for his forwards to regroup. While Ward poor play of late lead to being a healthy scratch for last Saturday’s game, the usually glib Ward failed to have any comments to the media that day. However, Jagr has made a few statements about the incident. “I’ve got no problem with anybody,” he said. “He didn’t play the last game and it’s my fault? I don’t think there’s a problem in the locker room at all. I don’t believe that he’s going to the media for that. During the game there are a lot of situations,” Jagr said. “He wasn’t happy, probably with the way I was talking to him. Should I write an E-mail? No.”
“Mikey Nylander, I tell him to pass me the puck 50 million times in the game. Did he ever come to you? They’re telling me to shoot 50 million times. Do I come to you and say, ‘The coach is yelling at me to shoot. It hurts me (points to his heart) right here’?”
Tonight’s game represents the second of four scheduled matches between the two clubs. In their previous game on January 6, New York defeated the Canadiens in Montreal by a 4-3 count. The Rangers have managed a 4-3-2 record over their last nine games, while the Habs are 3-1-0 over their last 4 starts, after coming off of a 6 game losing streak.
Habs Notes: Aaron Downey was placed on waivers on Monday, and was not claimed by another team. He’s expected to be sent down to Hamilton…Sergei Samsonov, who was scratched last game because of the flu, is going to be a game time decision whether or not he will play. Only 9 Canadiens skated this morning at the team practice…Andrei Kostitsyn was recalled from Hamilton today, after being sent down to the farm team on Monday. The move is likely an insurance transaction, in case Samsonov is not yet ready to play tonight.
Rangers Notes: Jaromir requires one assist to tie Phil Housley for 17th overall among the NHL’s all time assist leaders…The last time the Rangers beat Montreal in New York was March 11, 2002…Both Jagr and fellow Ranger Brendan Shanahan joined the 600 career goal club this season. This represents the first time in NHL history that two teammates have accomplished this feat in the same season.