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Having lost their last 3 games, the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning are in town to face the red hot Canadiens Tuesday night. Last season the team struggled in a similar manner before defeating the Habs to help turn their season around. This Bolts’ squad, despite its’ current struggles this season, is not one that can be taken lightly by the Habs. They still boast some of the best offensive players in the game, with names like Martin St. Louis, Vinnie Lecavalier, and Brad Richards. Their defensemen have remained intact, and Dan Boyle is currently enjoying a good season with 8 points, including 2 in his last 2 games. Their goaltending has changed since last season’s Stanley Cup win, with the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin and the arrival of veteran Sean Burke.

It is unusual that such a talented and mostly unchanged Stanley Cup winning team would struggle so far into this season. One possible explanation lies with the team’s power play, which ranks only 24th in the NHL. Conversely, their penalty killing unit boasts the 2nd best ranking in the league. Martin St. Louis in particular has struggled greatly on offence, and has recently been relegated to the checking line briefly in hopes that he’ll emerge to his previous dominating level of play. In the team’s last loss, a 5-3 decision against Toronto, Lightning coach John Tortorella admitted that his team took too many bad penalties. Coupled with their previous two losses, Tampa Bay has allowed 15 goals against while scoring 9 during their 3 game losing streak. Overall, this team is still one game above 500.

The Habs are coming off a fine 2-game home and home sweep against Buffalo with dual 3-2 wins. They must continue to work hard to build upon their 4 game winning streak, particularly on the power play which they rank 13th in the NHL. Coach Claude Julien tweaked their forward lines a little in the last game with some success. Rookie Chris Higgins was promoted to the 2nd line, along side of Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder. The move was productive, as Higgins’ speed helped him generate some fine scoring chances in both games against the Sabres. The Habs suffered another injury to a regular, with Jan Bulis leaving in the first period with what appears to be a shoulder injury. His status is day to day but it’s doubtful he will be ready for Tuesday’s game. Unless Radek Bonk returns to the lineup after missing the past 4 games, then Julien will have to do a lot of shuffling for the 3rd and 4th lines, possibly adding Dandenault to the mix with Streit being called upon on defense. It’s also possible that the Habs will call up a player from Hamilton if both Bulis and Bonk will not be in the lineup for a few more games.

For the Habs to continue to be successful, they will have to continue to get big goals from players outside of the top line, which is playing very well recently. The team has won 9 of their 11 games by one goal. In recent weeks, game tying, winning and other “clutch” goals have been scored by players like Begin, Sundstrom, Ryder, Perezhogin and Ribeiro. It’s this distribution of timely scoring which has been an underrated reason for the Habs success to date.

Projected Lineups:

Montreal Canadiens

Richard Zednik – Saku Koivu – Alexei Kovalev
Chris Higgins – Mike Ribeiro – Michael Ryder
Tomas Plekanec – Steve Begin – Niklas Sundstrom
Pierre Dagenais – Alexander Perezhogin – Mathieu Dandenault

Sheldon Souray – Mike Komisarek
Andrei Markov – Craig Rivet
Francis Bouillon – Mathieu Dandenault / Mark Streit

Injuries & Scratches: Cristobal Huet [G, knee], Raitis Ivanans [LW/RW, fractured orbital], Radek Bonk [C, flu/groin], Jan Bulis [LW, shoulder]

Tampa Bay Lightning

Vaclav Prospal-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis
Ruslan Fedotenko-Brad Richards-Fredrik Modin
Dimitry Afansenkov-Tim Taylor-Rob Dimaio
Dave Andreychuk-Nick Tarnasky-Evgeny Artyukhin

Darryl Sydor-Pavel Kubina
Corey Sarich-Nolan Pratt
Paul Ranger-Dan Boyle

Injuries & Scratches: Sean Burke, [G, groin]

Starting Goalies: Jose Theodore – Montreal, John Grahame – Tampa Bay

Habs Notebook: Who’s hot: Koivu [9 points in last 5 games], Begin [5 points in last 4 games], Ryder [6 point in last 6 games], Ribeiro [6 points in last 6 games], Kovalev [15 points in last 15 games], Markov [5 points in last 3 games], Dandenault [2 points in last 2 games], Bouillon [2 points in last 3 games]. Radek Bonk has begun to skate and may be ready to return for Tuesday or Thursday’s game…Saku Koivu has an excellent track record against the Lightning; he’s scored 10 goals and 29 points in 21 career games.

Tampa Bay Notes: Who’s hot: Richards [10 points in last 6 games], Lecavalier [17 points in last 10 games], Prospal [10 points in last 6 games], St. Louis [8 points in last 6 games], Boyle [2 points in last 2 games]….Lecavalier should be well remembered for his excellent play versus the Habs in the last season playoffs, when Vinnie scored 5 goals and 7 points in their 4 game sweep of the Canadiens.

The Week Ahead:

Nov. 10 @ Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Nov. 12 vs Toronto 7:00 PM
Nov. 15 vs Florida 7:30 PM