If there are two words that are never to early
to mutter in the city of Montreal they are “goalie controversy.” It has become
an almost annual ritual led by the fans and media ever since the departure of
Canadiens legend Patrick Roy in the mid 1990s. However, a goalie controversy is
exactly what head coach, Jacques Martin, may be staring straight at heading into
tonight’s game against the New York Rangers.
The Montreal Canadiens (4-5-0) play host tonight to the New York Rangers
(7-3-0). The Habs are coming off their most comprehensive victory of the season
on Thursday night against the lowly New York Islanders, defeating them 5-1. The
Canadiens have won two games in a row with Jaroslav Halak in goal thus raising
the question: Who will start tonight?
There are arguments in support of both goalies, depending on your personal point
of view. Halak is playing consistent at the moment and winning hockey games,
albeit against weaker opposition. On the other hand, throwing Carey Price right
back into the pressure cooker, where he once thrived, against a top team might
be what the coaching staff has in mind. With a busy week on the way against
difficult opposition both goalies will need to be utilized in the near future.
Having said that, it does not appear Martin has any agenda regarding the goalies
and should stay with the hot hand Halak tonight. The lineup should remain
unchanged from Thursday night. On the injury front, Ryan O’Byrne is still out
for about another month and Andrei Markov is on pace for a February return.
While Montreal has put up two straight wins, the New York Rangers are currently
on a two game losing streak. Their most recent loss coming against the New
Jersey Devils on Thursday, 4-2. The Canadiens defense will have to keep an eye
on superstar Marian Gaborik who leads the Rangers with 7 goals and 13 points.
Vinny Prospal is not far behind in the Rangers points race with 12 points. The
Rangers also run a very efficient powerplay with the impressive youngster from
Stouffville, Michael Del Zotto, who has 3 powerplay goals. New York has no
injury worries going into tonight and look for Henrik Lundqvist to start in
Tonight’s sub-plot: Tonight marks the first time that the Rangers and Habs face
off after their major summer trade which saw Chris Higgins and Scott Gomez swap
teams. Higgins so far has 2 assists this season for New York and is still
looking for his first goal, while the high priced Gomez has 2 goals and 5
assists for the Habs. The other New York-Montreal connection going into tonight
is Montreal defenseman Paul Mara who played for the Rangers last season. Look
for these three players to show some extra determination and emotion tonight.
Continued solid team defense for Montreal will be critical to stop the leagues
most potent offence. Thursday night finally saw the Montreal powerplay come to
life with Marc-Andre Bergeron scoring his first goal for the Canadiens.
Hopefully, some of the team confidence and momentum from the Islanders game will
carry over. The Habs seem to be settling into the Bell Centre and the fans
should give them an added boost going into this psychologically important game,
after the big summer trade. There were more than a few critics this past summer
after the Gomez-Higgins trade. However, a big game from Gomez and the Canadiens
could go a long way in silencing the critics (for now).
The Rangers have a two game winning streak dating back to last season against
the Canadiens. A stat the Habs would like to reverse tonight at the Bell Centre.
The game tonight can be seen on CBC (HD), RDS (HD), and MSG (HD) starting at
7:00 pm ET.