Preview – Montreal (23-23-5) at New Jersey (33-14-1) – January 22nd 2010
A statement game if there ever was one, the Canadiens face off against the Atlantic leading, and perpetual nemesis, New Jersey Devils. After losing three consecutive contests, this game represents both an opportunity for redemption and a chance to prove that Montreal can compete with the best.
Since their last visit to Montreal, the Devils have been having some difficulties. In fact, they have won but 2 of the 6 games subsequent to the January 9th tilt in Montreal. However, they are no less a mighty foe because of it. Martin Brodeur registered his seventh shutout and obtained his 30th win on Wednesday versus the Panthers. Indeed, the perennial all-star netminder continues to be in fine form this season, registering a .923 save percentage and 2.15 goals against average. And, in spite of their reputation, the Devils are no slouches offensively either. Led by Zach Parise’s 20 goals and 48 points, they currently have six players with 10 goals or more on their roster. Also, they rank a respectable tenth in the league on the powerplay, capitalizing on 19.2 percent of their chances. However, their attack has taken a hit of late, with Patrik Elias out with a head injury. He joins Danius Zubrus, Vladimir Zharkov, Rod Pelley, David Clarkson and Paul Martin in the infirmary.
As mentioned in the opening, things are not exactly rosy for the Canadiens. After losing three consecutive games, and winning only 2 of their 8 games in January, the Habs have slipped to 11th in the East and are 3 points out of the playoffs. In addition, it should be noted that most teams in front of Montreal have games in hand. To add to the on-ice woes, Georges Laraque was released from the team, in spite having a contract that runs through the end of next season, and Cammalleri and Lapierre got into a fight during practice yesterday. While I will not comment of those events here, they certainly paint a sombre picture of the atmosphere in the Montreal dressing room. Hopefully, between their precarious position in the standings and the recent happenings, Montreal will be able to put forth a consistent, 60 minute effort tonight.
Of course, the Brothers Kostitsyn are still out tonight, while the identity of the starting goaltender remains unknown (Update: Halak will get the start). The puck drops at 7:00 pm and the contest will be broadcast on RDS and MSG Plus.
On a final note, amongst all the brouhaha surrounding Laraques’ firing and the scuffle at practice, a much more pertinent and worrisome event unfolded. It has been reported that Jean Beliveau suffered a stroke yesterday but that he is now in stable condition. Of course, we all wish him a speedy return to health and hope to see him at Bell Centre soon.