The eleventh place Montreal Canadiens will look to gain some ground on the New York Islanders Tuesday night at the Bell Center. The Islanders currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 78 points. The Habs, meanwhile, are four points back from New York, but have played two games more.
The playoff race has been on for some time now, and will likely only conclude for those involved around the final few days of the regular season. Currently, five teams are in a tight race for the final two playoff spots in the East with only four points separating them. Montreal is on the wrong side of the standings while the Islanders are in the most favorable position moving forward, and have an opportunity to further their distance with a win Tuesday night.
Trouble is brewing for both the Habs and Isles going into Tuesday’s game. Forwards Chris Simon and Sergei Samsonov both made headlines this week for different reasons.
Simon, who swung his stick at the Rangers’ Ryan Hollweg’s face, was suspended by the league for a minimum of 25 games. Simon, 35, will not be allowed to play for the Isles’ remaining 14 games and will also miss the entirety of the playoffs, should the Islanders make it. If the Islanders play fewer than 10 playoff games this year, Simon will also miss action at the beginning of next season until he reaches a total of 25 games missed due to suspension.
On the other hand, Samsonov has expressed to the Montreal media that he regrets ever signing with the Canadiens and looks forward to a fresh start, most certainly elsewhere. The problem is that it will likely be quite difficult GM Bob Gainey to move Samsonov who still has a year left on his $3.5 million contract.
The Habs got some encouraging news from sick bay when Mike Johnson said he’ll be good to go Tuesday night after suffering an injury when his face collided with post to David Aebischer’s net. Also, Cristobal Huet has begun skating on his own after suffering a hamstring injury. There is a slight chance that the French netminder will return before the end of the regular season.
Not all the news was good news. Alex Kovalev is questionable for Tuesday night’s dance with the Islanders after he missed practice Monday morning with flu symptoms. If the talented winger is unable to dress, expect rookie Andrei Kostitsyn to skate in his place.
The Canadiens are coming off a 4-3 win versus the St. Louis Blues. Montreal allowed St. Louis back into the game Saturday night after taking a 3-0 lead in the second period on goals from Steve Begin, Maxim Lapierre, and Guillaume Latendresse.
The Blues replied with three goals of their own after a goaltending change. Two of their three goals came in the final frame when David Backes brought St. Louis within one and Glen Metropolit tied the game on the power play with just over two minutes left.
However, it was Kovalev who saved the game for the Habs only 43 seconds later when he scored what proved to be the game winner with a minute and a half left in the game. Doug Weight also scored for the Blues.
While Montreal’s win over the Blues marked their first victory in five games, the Isles have been picking up points all over the place since late January. Since January 18th, New York has picked up points in 19 of their 22 games, a span in which the team went 13-3-6. It was the team’s strong play that made the decision of adding players for a playoff run that much easier on rookie GM Garth Snow.
Snow made noise at the NHL trade deadline when he acquired Ryan Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers in a deal that shocked many. Prior to snagging Smyth, Snow also added defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has been on fire for the Islanders, and Richard Zednik. Both players add offensive depth to the more defensive minded team.
In their last action, the New York Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 5-2. Veteran Mike Sillinger drew first blood for the Isles with a goal only two minutes into the game. Andy Hilbert, Jason Blake, and Bergeron would next score goals to give New York a 4-0 lead going into the third.
Alexander Ovechkin finally got Washington on the board, while Donald Brashear scored a rare goal to make things interesting only 1:49 later. However, the Islanders held off the Caps for the rest of the period and Blake added his second of the game, to set a career high – 35 goals. Goaltender Rick DiPietro made 32 saves in his 30th win of the season, tying the career high he set last season.
The Islanders hold an edge over the Canadiens in the season series with two wins and a single defeat. Montreal won the first game between the two teams back on December 7th, but the Isles won the next two on February third and 24th.
Danish player Frans Nielsen scored his first NHL goal against the Habs, a goal that proved to be the game winner in a 3-2 Islanders win. Nielsen is the only player from Denmark currently playing in the NHL, and also picked up an assist in the game on the first goal of the game scored by Jeff Tambellini. Blake, one of the Islanders most dangerous scoring threats, also scored in the win.
Sheldon Souray scored on the power play for the Habs in the first period to tie the game at one apiece and Chris Higgins would score early in the third period to make bring the Canadiens within one of tying the game at three. Montreal failed to cap the comeback, though, and Jaroslav Halak lost his first for the first time in his NHL career after winning his first three starts.