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Tonight the Montreal Canadiens take on the Eastern Conference's top rated team, the Buffalo Sabres, in Buffalo, New York. The Habs are riding high on a 3 game winning streak, while taking 4 of their last 5 games. The last team to defeat them was Buffalo, a 3-2 loss suffered on December 9th at home. During their recent 5 game hot streak, the Habs have scored 20 goals while giving up 13. The Sabres are coming off a 3-1 loss against Ottawa last Saturday.
Recently, several Habs players have had a hot hand in scoring. Captain Saku Koivu has recorded 4 multi-goal games so far this month, which is one game off the club record, held by hall of famers Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt. Koivu's response to his goal scoring is typical of his usual high level of effort. "`I've been working a lot on my shot and things around the net, maybe that's one of the reasons, but I'm not really used to scoring that many goals, it's been more of a playmaking thing,'' the Montreal captain said. ``But I'll take these goals, and it's obviously enjoyable.''
A key to the Habs recent success has been the special teams. In particular, the power play has excelled recently, scoring 4 goals in 7 attempts against Pittsburgh last Saturday. That stellar effort lifted the Habs to the top position in the league on the power. Their penalty killing, which has also been excellent this season, is currently 2nd overall in the NHL. The Habs are hopeful to take adavantage of the Sabres with the man advantage, as Buffalo gave up 2 power play goals which directly lead to their last loss against Ottawa. Buffalo is also struggling when they are on the power play recently, scoring only 5 out of their last 56 chances, for a 8.9% successrate, in their last 10 games.
Head coach Guy Carbonneau is expected to throw the same lineup out on the ice tonight, as their last game, a 6-3 win against Pittsburgh Saturday night. Rookie call up Maxim Lapierre has provided a big spark for the team since his call up 3 games ago. His energized style has been a bonus on both the 4th line and the penalty killing units, while he's chipped in 3 points. Christobal Huet is expected to get the start for tonight's game.
Predicted Montreal Lineup:
Christopher Higgins - Saku Koivu - Michael Ryder
Sergei Samsonov - Tomas Plekanec - Alexei Kovalev
Michael Johnson - Radek Bonk - Alexander Perezhogin
Mark Streit - Maxim Lapierre - Guillaume Latendresse
Predicted Buffalo Lineup:
Johan Hecht - Daniel Briere - Jason Pomniville
Ales Kotalik- Chris Drury - Jiri Novotny
Tomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Maxim Afinogenov
Steve Peters - Paul Gaustad - Adam Mair
Jaroslav Spacek - Brian Campbell
Teppo Numminen - Dmitri Kalinin
Toni Lydman - Nathan Paestch
Sabres Notes: The next season will be a difficult one for Sabres GM Darcy Regier. He will face the possibility of losing one of his co captains, forwards Daniel Briere or Chris Drury, to unrestricted free agency. Both play key roles on the successful Buffalo team this season. "For me it's never been a Chris or Danny decision," GM Darcy Regier said. "It's what's best for the overall team. They're two important members of the team, but we'll make those decisions based on what's best for the team as opposed to individual choices ... this player over that player."...Who's hot: Daniel Briere (6 Games, 4 G, 4 A), Maxim Afinogenov (14 Games, 6 G, 11 A), Ryan Miller (6 Games, 4 W, 2 L, 1.98 GAA, .939 SV%)
Habs Notes: Francis Bouillon, who returned to the Habs lineup on November 22, has been transitioning back into a regular role on defence. To aid his return, he has had to spend extra time in the workout room, building up core muscles to compliment the knee surgery he had last August....Who's Hot: Saku Koivu (2 Games, 4 G), Michael Ryder & Alexei Kovalev (2 Games, 1 G, 2 A), Maxim Lapierre (3 Games, 2 G, 1 A), Tomas Plekanec (4 Games, 4 A), Guillaume Latendresse (9 Games, 3 G, 4 A), Sheldon Souray (2 Games, 1 G, 4 A) Andrei Markov (2 Games, 3 A), Mark Streit (2 Games, 1 G, 1 A), Cristobal Huet (13 Games, 9 W, 1 L, 1 T, 1 SO, 2.16 GAA, .939 SV%)