Saku Koivu has been on fire of late, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After being joined by Michael Ryder and Richard Zednik on the Habs’ top line, the trio has posted 14 points in the team’s past five games. Koivu’s increased production has helped the Canadiens to a 3-1-1 record in during that five game span, and the team will again look to gain ground in the standings on Friday against the 12th place Carolina Hurricanes. Friday’s affair will be the first of a home and home series between the two teams, who are separated by just three points in the Eastern Conference Standings.
It should also be noted that Mike Ribeiro will be back in the line-up for Montreal. The 23-year-old pivot, who is currently leading the team in scoring with 15 points, was surprisingly benched by coach Claude Julien for Tuesday’s game vs. Tampa Bay. Barring any unexpected changes, expect the flashy centreman to regain control of the Habs’ second scoring unit along with Yanic Perreault and Pierre Dagenais. Joe Juneau, who missed Tuesday’s game, too, did not travel to Carolina with the team due to his ongoing back injuries. With Juneau out, expect the feisty Steve Begin to play his second straight game as the checking line centre after a rather impressive game on Tuesday in which the Trois-Rivieres native was rewarded with 16:59 of ice time.
Julien will once again be faced with another tough lineup decision, though it will be concentrated on his defenceman. Craig Rivet played last game at forward, receiving 9:30 of playing time on the fourth line with tough guy Darren Langdon and big Chad Kilger. However, with the return of Ribeiro, it’s unexpected that Rivet will remain up front. Instead, Julien will have to decide whether or not the 6’3″ rearguard will have a spot back on the blueline. Although he has played sparingly, rookie Mike Komisarek has played well enough to remain in and amongst the starting six, and Francis Bouillon’s spirited play should be enough to keep him in the lineup. Veteran Stephane Quintal received a very generous 24:19 of ice time in Tuesday’s victory, but the gritty blueliner is certainly not guaranteed a spot on the ice, especially after he was a healthy scratch against Washington last Friday.
Meanwhile, Carolina is coming off of a tough overtime loss at home to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday. Despite mustering 41 shots on the goal, the ‘Canes fell victim to a late Scott Hartnell goal. Jeff O’Neill and the rest of the Hurricanes will certainly be looking to avenge the loss against Montreal on Friday. Eric Cole currently leads his team in points with 16, one ahead of O’Neill. Kevin Weekes has earned all seven of Carolina’s victories thus far, but the athletic netminder has gone 1-2-0 with a 2.63 GAA and a .893 SV% in his past three games, not stellar numbers for a keeper as talented as Weekes. However, do not be surprised if backup Jamie Storr is between the pipes Friday in order to give Weekes a rest. Also, ‘Canes blueliner Glen Wesley is day-to-day with a shoulder injury, and it’s unknown whether the steady veteran will play.
Friday’s game is the first of a home and home series between the two clubs, and it will also mark the first time Montreal will meet Carolina this year. The teams will head back to Montreal and the Bell Centre for Saturday night’s game. The Hab’s defence will be in tough. as the Hurricanes sit a top the NHL with an average of 31.8 shots per game. The Canadiens, however, come into the game at 24th in that category with an average of 26.