The Montreal Canadiens stumble into the game tonight against the Florida Panthers coming off a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. The Habs have lost their last three games, two of them to non-playoff teams, Toronto and Tampa Bay. The Florida Panthers are coming off a 5-3 loss in Buffalo on Sunday. However, in that contest the score took a backseat to the horrendous throat injury that ex-Hab Richard Zednik suffered when an arrant skate struck him.
In a very close Southeast Division the Panthers are just three points out of first behind the Carolina Hurricanes. Montreal remains five points behind the Ottawa Senators in the North East Division. Florida has won two out of three meetings this season against Montreal, however the last meeting on December 28 the Canadiens won 5-1, with Michael Ryder scoring the game winning goal.
Unfortunately it does not look like Ryder will have the opportunity to score the game-winning goal tonight, as he appears to be a healthy scratch again. Expect Sergei Kostitsyn to be put back on a line with Koivu and Chris Higgins. Carey Price gets his second start in goal since being recalled from Hamilton, and the Habs will need a strong showing from him. Roman Hamrlik is also still listed as doubtful after picking up what appears to be a very serious case of the flu. No doubt Florida will be licking their chops at the prospect of seeing a healthy dose of Patrice Brisebois on the ice tonight.
It appears that Tomas Vokoun will be in goal for Florida tonight, and will be key if Florida has any chance of victory. Vokoun has two wins against the Habs this season and only allowed three goals in those two victories. He was also named first star in the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Florida comes into tonight’s game with a few injury concerns, most notably Zednik who will be out of the Panther’s lineup for six to eight weeks. Also out are Jozef Stumpel with a shoulder injury and Radek Dvorak with a hand injury. It is also worth noting Garth Murray will not have a chance to face his former team tonight as he is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
For Montreal to be successful tonight they will need a much better effort in goal from Carey Price. The goaltending tandem of Huet and Price has been struggling in the last week. Although Montreal holds the NHL’s number one power play ranking, the last few games the power play has looked disjointed at times. A solid effort on the power play will be key for the Habs to bust out of this slump. Finally, secondary scoring has become a real concern over the last week or two. Although the Kovalev line looks like one of the best lines in the NHL right now they are not receiving much support from the other three lines.
The game time is at 7:30pm tonight and can be seen as always on RDS. FSN-F is also carrying the game in Florida.