The Montreal Canadiens are back in action.
After an holiday break of almost a week, and displaced by the World Junior Hockey Championships, the Habs are on the road in Raleigh this evening. The schedule allows the team to ease back in against one of the East's worst teams, a squad they took down just 12 days ago.
All of time off clearly gave the Montreal braintrust some time to think, as they seem to have devised some further improvements to their line combinations. At Sunday's practice, Nathan Beaulieu was promoted to the second pair alongside Sergei Gonchar, reinforcing his encouraging deployment against the Islanders, when he played the fourth most minutes of all Canadiens rearguards.
Up front, Tomas Plekanec has been given some talent to work with, as he was slotted between David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau. While their styles are not the same at face value, Desharnais showed a willingness to back-check at times during last year's playoffs, and his presence alongside the Czech veteran is unquestionably an improvement over Dale Weise and Brandon Prust, who Pleky was recently saddled with.
With Lars Eller no longer absent, as he was when Montreal last played Carolina, this configuration would seem to make the best use of Montreal's considerable talent. Considering that the Hurricanes are also improving their lineup by returning a big, two-way centre from injury, the timing is excellent.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (French): RDS
In Quebec and Atlantic Canada (English): Sportsnet East
In the Carolinas: FS-CR
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|49.8||Fenwick % (Within 1)||50.7|
|1.21||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.68|
Know Your Enemy
Since the Canadiens last encountered the 'canes, Carolina has continued their up-and-down adventure of a season. They avenged their loss to the Habs by beating Toronto, but have since lost three of their last four games.
But there is some good news on the horizon. Jordan Staal, a season-long member of Carolina's parade of injured players, will make his season debut against the Habs tonight, adding a much needed reliable veteran to Bill Peters' crew.
The Hurricanes actually have a pair of impressive young players, in Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm, and each played well against Montreal a couple of weeks back. Eric Staal and Alex Semin (still injured) give the team the requisite top of the line-up forward talent. It has been their lack of depth up front, amongst other problems, that has undermined their efforts so far. Staal is far from solving the problem, but his versatile game will make Montreal's task more difficult this evening.
Last Time Out
When the Habs and Hurricanes last met, the game came on the heels of a long-awaited line-up shake-up by Michel Therrien. Therrien's decision paid off in spades, as Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, and Brendan Gallagher collaborated to earn #27 a hat-trick.
The game also marked a fine performance from David Desharnais, who had been struggling previously. A patient and skillful play by the Canadiens centreman led to a tap-in goal for Brandon Prust, and was the first Habs strike in what would be a 4-1 win.
The uptick in productivity has continued in the games that have followed. The Habs' first line of 67-27-11 has combined for eight points in their last three games, and has often looked dominant. After going 52 games without an even strength goal, David Desharnais has three in his last five games.
MT still has a ways to go, especially with regards to tactics, but recent lineup decisions have been nothing but positive. With a week off to prepare to close their year off, and playing one of the league's poorest teams, the Habs should be positioned for a win. Tonight, we'll find out if the coaching staff has them ready to go.