The Montreal Canadiens refuse to lose.
Through seven games, they've earned 12 of 14 points, already accomplishing a feat they managed only twice in 82 games last season. Even better, they've done so without over-reliance on special teams, or goaltending, or luck. The Habs won't bat .857 all season, but they deserve to be where they are.
Tonight, that theory will be put to the test, as the Canadiens will face off against one of their strongest opponents to date.
How to watch
Time: 7:00pm EST
In Canada (English): City TV
In Canada (French): TVA Sports
In New York: MSG
Elsewhere: NHL Center Ice or NHL Gamecenter Live
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
If there's a blueprint drawn to match-up against the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers may be the team built from it.
Like the Habs, the Rangers have depth throughout their forward group, including two lines that can be dangerous in the offensive zone. Both third lines feature speed and skill, capable of both supplementary scoring and hard defence. While Tanner Glass doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents, Ryan Malone has been a force from the fourth line to start the year.
The back-end is equally strong and balanced, even without free-agent acquisition Dan Boyle in the line-up. Boyle's broken hand, suffered nine minutes into his stint with the Rangers, leaves the third pair shakier than it would be otherwise, but Alain Vigneault has compensated by ensuring that Matt Hunwick that never starts a shift within 50 feet of Henrik Lundqvist.
The Blueshirts haven't had the same success in the standings that Montreal has enjoyed so far, but the Habs' opponents tonight are building themselves to be a contender much like the Habs are.
Lundqvist has had a rough go to start the season, not unlike Carey Price, but it's only a matter of time before he starts stealing games. The Rangers have also invested in young players, integrating young forwards like Kevin Hayes and Anthony Duclair into their lineup. Their special teams may not be running on all cylinders, but their strong play at even strength has powered them to wins, including over the Blues and Sharks.
The speed, skill, system, and star power are all there. Much like games played against Tampa Bay and Boston so far, tonight is another early survey of the NHL's eastern landscape.
Last Time Out
The last time out was, as Andrew referred to it in his recap, the end of a long and winding road. The Canadiens appeared exhausted, mentally and physically, and the result was one of the less-competitive games to ever end in a 1-0 final.
The Canadiens managed 18 shots, and only four scoring chances, but with five minutes left in the second period, they were still in the game. In some kind of twisted poetic irony, Henrik Lundvist robbed Thomas Vanek, and only minutes later, Dom Moore scored the goal that would salt away the series.
While it was the Rangers who moved on to the Finals last May, fair and square, there must be a sense of unfinished business for Montreal. Tonight, with their team intact with its superstar goaltender, the Habs will look to earn that closure.