With two days rest from an excellent road trip the Canadiens start a four game home stand tonight against the basement dwellers of the NHL the Atlanta Thrashers. This is the first of four meetings between the two teams this season, last year Montreal won the season series 3-1, winning both games in Montreal.
Atlanta lost their first six games of the season which led to the firing of head coach Bob Hartley by G.M. and now head coach Don Waddell. Since the change the Thrashers are 3-2 but still have the leagues 26th ranked power play and 29th ranked penalty kill. Ilya Kovalchuck has been the only bright spot in Atlanta with six goals and six assists in 11 games.
Carey Price will make his first home start for the Canadiens this evening and also play consecutive games for the first time in his career. Price picked up the shoot-out win in Pittsburgh on Saturday allowing 3 goals on 23 shots and stopping all 8 Penguins in the shoot-out. Kari Lehtonen is on the injured reserve leaving the reigns Johan Hedberg. Hedberg is 3-4 this season with a .885 save % and a 3.78 GAA.
Francis Bouillon will miss tonight game with a shoulder injury, suffered against the Penguins Saturday. Patrice Brisebois will replace him in the Canadiens line-up and it will be a special night for #71, as he will play his 800th NHL game. Brisebois accepted near league minimum salary to return to the team he was drafted 30th overall by back in 1989.Mikhail Grabovski will also return to the line-up most likely in favour of Andrei Kostitsyn who did pick up an assist in the win but surely was not effective enough for a third line roll. Grabovski will join Bryan Smolinski and Mathieu Dandenault back on the third line.
Atlanta’s line up will be the same as the one used Saturday night to beat the Blackhawk’s in Chicago. The top line has been the most deadly this season with Bryan Little centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Darren Haydar while Hossa, White and Perrin have yet to do much but it is only matter of time.
The Canadiens power pay continues to lead the league running at over 30% thanks to Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec whom each have three power play goals. The penalty kill on the other hand has been less than stellar ranking just 25th, thankfully for the Canadiens they have only been short handed 47 times (22nd).
Albeit early in the season these are the kinds of games the Canadiens need to win to reach the playoffs in April. They must not look past Atlanta to Philadelphia and Toronto later in the week.
1. The Canadiens have a 10-3-0-1 all time home record against the Thrashers
2. In his six career starts against the Canadiens Johan Hedberg has never emerged victorious.
3. Bryan Smolinski has 15 points in 14 career games against Atlanta which includes 2 GWG and a +12 rating.