Despite dropping a disappointing game at home against the Flyers on Monday, the Habs have picked up a point in five of their last six contests, and led by a pair of fiery-footed centremen, the CH are clinging by a point to the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff position.
As they prepare to faceoff against the Habs on Wednesday night, the New York Rangers can surely smell the sweat of the team that sits just one point ahead of them in the standings. Along with captain and leader Saku Koivu, the rugged Steve Begin has been a large factor in the team’s good fortune of late. Undersized by NHL standards, Koivu and Begin are proving that is does not matter how tall you stand, rather the size of your heart is what is really measured.
While resident third line pivot Joe Juneau has been cleared to play by team doctors, Coach Julien must decide if the always solid Juneau should return to his regular spot in the lineup, between Andy Dackell and Nik Sundstrom. It shall not be an easy decision for Julien, as Begin has redefined the term ‘checking line’, and has given new life to Dackell and Sundstrom, who have transformed into a rather effective duo. Speaking of medical clearance, there was another Hab who was treated to good news this week, as aging sniper Donald Audette has finally healed from a separated shoulder. Often critized for his poor defensive play and increasingly common offensive blunders, Audette is in the same boat as Juneau, meaning there is no guarantee the 5’8 winger will be handed back to his old roster spot. Pierre Dagenais, the man who has replaced Audette during his abscence, has played well enough to earn consistent playing time on the team’s second line and has even recorded a pair of goals to go along with three helpers for 5 points in his 7 games since being called up from Hamilton.
Despite a good game in Monday’s loss, Mathieu Garon will return to his backup duties while Jose Theodore will find himself back between the pipes in New York. Theodore has been remarkable in his past two starts, recording a GAA of 0.96 and a flattering .966 SV%. The star netminder worked his way to a 10-10-2 overall for the season, and it’s clear that the former Vezina winner has directed his focus towards only one thing: winning games. Theodore was rocked by the Blueshirts on November 1st, allowing five Ranger goals in a 5-1 loss. Mike Dunham is the likely starter in goal for the Rangers, even though he has won just once in his past seven attempts.
If Audette is to make his return, he will be playing against the man he was once traded for, Martin Rucinsky. The speedy Czech winger has been strong for the Rags so far, notching eight goals and 20 points through his first 27 games. He has been a big part of New York’s most effective line, which also includes the team’s point leader, Alexei Kovalev and big Bobby Holik. The CH will be looking to commit to a large ammount of defence tonight, as the Rangers widespread attack has now found Anson Carter. The 200 lb winger has just seven goals on the campaign, but three of them have come in his past three games.
It wil be another reunion of sorts for Sheldon Souray and Vlad Malakhov. Both defenceman are incredibly talented, even though they play a much different sytle of game. When Malakhov went to the New Jersey Devils in 2001 as part of a deadline deal, Souray was the man who came back to the Habs in return. Malakhov is as strong a skater and is perhaps as gifted offensively as any one defenceman in the entire league, but his desire is often questioned. Souray, meanwhile, is in the midst of a breakout season. The 27-year-old, 6’4 rearguard has already doubled his career high in the goal department with eight thanks to his booming point shot, and any Ranger who dares to cross over the Montreal blueline with his head lowered will surely find the shoulder of the Habs’ #44.
Stephane Quintal has served his one game suspension, and will replace Mike Komisarek in the lineup toinght. Jason Ward still remains unable to play after he was injured against this very New York team while blocking a steaming Malakhov point shot. Ward, who is all hustle out on the ice, continues to skate with the team and should be returning soon.
Pascal Rheaue and Pavel Bure are out indefintely for the Rangers, both with knee injuries. Youngster Jamie Lundmark is also out of tonight’s game with, you guessed it, a bad knee.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TSN, as well as on RDS at 7:00. Do not be shy, and drop by the Habsworld Forum to discuss this game and any other.