The lockout-impaired 2013 season is nearly two-thirds complete, and the Canadiens have used the last 29 games to demonstrate their ability to hang with the top teams, and often dominate the teams that are clearly inferior to them. If there is one exception to that rule, however, it may be the New York Islanders. In fact, the Isles represent the only NHL team that Montreal has failed to beat this year, when given more than one opportunity.
In their two prior match-ups against the Islanders this year, Montreal has been derailed by similar problems - penalties, and Matt Moulson. Montreal has taken fifteen penalties against the Islanders this year, while drawing only eight of their own. In order for the Canadiens to be successful, they'll need to use their puck-possession skills to draw their penalty ratio closer to equilibrium. They've been successful in doing this throughout the season, as the Canadiens have drawn more penalties than any other team in the NHL.
If the Canadiens are unable to shutdown the entire Isles squad, they might consider prioritizing John Tavares and Moulson. New York's top snipers have been just that against Montreal this year, amassing a total of seven points between them. Ideally, the task of containing the Islanders primary offensive threats would fall to P.K. Subban, who has also contributed four points from the back end in the 2013 season series.
Montreal will have to continue to cope with Raphael Diaz, Rene Bourque, and Brandon Prust out of the line-up, although Bourque practiced with full contact yesterday. Call-ups Gabriel Dumont and Jarred Tinordi will continue to fill in for the Canadiens' wounded. Enjoying the type of injury-luck that benefitted Montreal early in the year, the Islanders will ice their regular line-up Thursday night.
In net, the Canadiens have confirmed that Carey Price will be the man between the pipes. Price will seek to improve on the .813 save percentage that he's posted against the Islanders to this point. Montreal will face a new goaltender tonight, as Evgeni Nabokov takes a seat after two wins against Montreal, and Kevin Poulin steps up to the plate. In two appearances this season, Poulin has a .895 save percentage. The Montreal native has never played the Habs before.
Coverage from the other end of the rink is available courtesy of Lighthouse Hockey.