Canadiens vs Rangers - Game Preview

The Canadiens will welcome Brandon Prust back to their lineup on Saturday night. - Richard Wolowicz

As the Canadiens return home from a challenging back-to-back, can they take two points from a team dealing with significant challenges of its own?

The New York Rangers requested a flight to Montreal for their scheduled Saturday night matchup, but they find themselves in limbo instead.

While they have maintained the staunch attention to defense, evidenced by a conference top-3 standing in goals against, the mid-level offense they produced while skating to the East's number one seed last year has disappeared. The Rangers were expecting more from highly-paid stars like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, who have posted 18 and 19 points, respectively, in 2013. Gaborik is dominant at his best, but with the Rangers teetering on the brink of playoff qualification, he is beginning to look more like a valuable trade chip than one of the offensive centrepieces of a legitimate contender.

The Rangers are enjoying excellent point production from Rick Nash, who is up around a point-per-game clip, but the Blueshirts are enjoying that production at a high cost. The diamond of NYR's off-season was extracted while key depth players like Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and Brandon Prust were lost. The Rangers loss of depth appears to be another key difference between this year's squad and last year's.

When the Rangers were not able to retain some of their quality depth players, Marc Bergevin ensured that the Canadiens became immediate beneficiaries. Brandon Prust's play in his oft-changing role has far exceeded anyone's expectations. The Canadiens have missed Prust for their last eight games, but it appears that he will return to the Habs lineup in time to face his old team.

While Prust has not yet been able to find the back of the net against his former teammates, he'll seek to change that statistic on Saturday. The man standing in his way will be Martin Biron, who has established a .915 save percentage over 29 career games against the Canadiens. His counterpart will be Carey Price, who was given the hook after allowing four unearned runs through two periods against Boston. Price has a .914 save percentage and three shutouts in the twelve games he has started against the Rangers.

Montreal has staked themselves to a 2-0 lead in their season series with the Rangers, courtesy of 3-1 and 3-0 wins that came in the same week in late February. The game-winning goal in the first game was scored by Erik Cole, who has since done the Canadiens an even greater service by taking his act to Texas in exchange for the highly effective Michael Ryder. In the second game, the game-winner was scored by Alex Galchenyuk, who has simply ceased to score since then. Nonetheless, Galchenyuk's play has been solid, and he has found a way to contribute while patiently waiting for his shooting percentage to regress toward normalcy for his talent level.

Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella referred to the Canadiens and Rangers first game as "one of the worst hockey games [I've] been involved with," before transposing that title onto their second matchup four days later. The Rangers are not where they expected to be two-thirds of the way through the 2013 season, and it will be the quality of their play, not to mention the final outcome of games like Saturday's, that will determine where they're headed.

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