Canadiens vs. Islanders - Game Preview

Bruce Bennett

With the Canadiens in the midst of their worst slide of this still-young season, can the Habs gain some traction against a team in similar position?

The Habs are working their way up.

After playing well but failing to outscore the Minnesota Wild, the Canadiens gave way and got blown out by the Colorado Avalanche. Their mediocre-to-poor play carried over against the St. Louis Blues, but an opportunistic Montreal team and some solid goalkeeping took the Habs to the shootout before they succumbed. Most recently, in another iteration of a burgeoning rivalry, Montreal travelled to Ottawa. The Habs largely took the Sens to task, but couldn't get the puck past Robin Lehner. Their efforts were ultimately unrewarded, as Ottawa took advantage of their opportunities and took the game 4-1.

As the Canadiens return home, they'll welcome the New York Islanders to the friendly confines of the Bell Centre. With their upward trajectory, the Habs will look to finally match a good effort to two points in the standings.

With a playoff berth last year, the Isles played the Penguins tough before bowing out in the sixth game of their opening round series. Disappointing as that may have been, it left the Long Island organization with optimism that they could be contenders again in 2013-14.

The Islanders made a couple of adjustments in the off-season, sending young winger Nino Niederreiter to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for pesky veteran Cal Clutterbuck. The Isles also bought out goaltender Rick Dipietro, ensuring that jokes about his contract would persist for seven years longer than originally scheduled. The most significant transaction would occur after the season began, however.

With New York off to a less than dazzling start, and a big weapon available on the trade block, the Islanders went all in to acquire Thomas Vanek, sending first and second round picks to Buffalo alonside Tavares' right-hand man, Matt Moulson.

While Vanek is one of the NHL's most talented and dangerous scorers, Habs fans will be happy to see Moulson gone. The now-Sabre has been a Hab killer over his career, and perhaps never more often than last year. Moulson went off for three goals and two assists in three matchups with the Habs, helping to earn his team three victories.

The third component of NYI's old big line, Brad Boyes, departed in free agency, but even with only Tavares remaining, Islanders coach Jack Capuano hasn't abandoned the idea of putting his offensive eggs in one very potent basket. Since his arrival, Vanek has been lining up on John Tavares' left-wing. Kyle Okposo has been brought up to the first line as well, creating a trio that may even better than what the Islanders iced last year. Montreal had some difficulty containing that group last year, so it will be interesting to see if they're able to handle JT and his sidekicks tonight.

Of course, while the Canadiens seem like the stronger team overall, the Canadiens' advantages on special teams and in goal are particularly clear. The Isles powerplay isn't too bad, but the Long Island squad simply hasn't been able to keep pace on the penalty kill so far. The Canadiens Subban-led powerplay is ever dangerous, and considering that P.K. was the only player able to match Moulson's five points in last season's series, he may be a key cog in tonight's outcome.

The Habs have also enjoyed extremely consistent goaltending so far this year, with Carey Price playing as nothing short of an Olympic-calibre starter to begin the year. His 6-7-1 record is wholly inconsistent with his performance, which has earned him a .930 save percentage to begin the year. Price has struggled a little in previous games against the Isles, however, allowing more than three goals a game with a .886 save percentage.

Price's counterpart will be Kevin Poulin, the Montreal native who acts as the back-up to Evgeni Nabokov. Poulin was rung up when he last saw the Habs, allowing five goals to the Habs as Montreal got its one win against the Islanders last year. Poulin has been stronger of late, allowing only one goal in each of his last two starts. He'll look to use that performance as springboard to a stronger outing tonight.

For top shelf Isles coverage, satire on topics ranging from Rick Dipietro to the Minnesota Wild to Rob Ford, and some advanced scouting from opposing perspective, do yourself a favour and check out Lighthouse Hockey.

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