This is the second meeting of the year between these two teams, and there is much on the line. More than just two points for the Habs. Instead, the need to halt a 3 game losing streak, and the opportunity to seek revenge for last years loss in the Rogers Arena.
The Canadiens have not had a lot of luck on their west coast journeys over the past two seasons. Dropping a game to the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 on Thursday, and following that up with a 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday in the Heritage Classic, La Flanelle is in desperate need to turn their slump around.
Heading into tonight’s match, the Habs lay claim to a dismal record of 0-5 in their last two west coast road trips (spanning over the past 2 seasons), and facing the league leading Vancouver team will not leave them with an easy task to pick up a win.
In their last meeting, back on November 9th in Montreal, the Canadiens relied on two members of the defensive unit to lead them to a 2-0 victory. One of those players being Andre Markov. But things have changed dramatically for the Canadiens since November.
In what was clearly a defensive game last time they met, Price saved all 34 shots that he faced, and the majority of those were in the last half of the third period. Prior to that, in the first 40 minutes, the Habs held the Canucks to 15 shots.
But the defense is not what it used to be. With Markov and Gorges gone for the year, Spacek out indefinitely, and Gill not playing at 100%, it will be difficult to shut down the offensive powerhouse of the top 6 Vancouver players.
The Sedin twins alone have amassed 46 goals and 103 assists this season. The Canucks also boast 8 players with more than 30 points, while the Canadiens have only 4.
So tonight is the night that we will really see what the acquisition of Paul Mara can do for a struggling defense, and James Wisniewski will also be at the forefront of the defensive game. Subban will need to play disciplined, and Hal Gill will have to be closer to his full capabilities.
On the other side of the coin, it’s proving time for the likes of Kostitsyn, Gionta, Gomez, and Plekanec. All who have struggled to put the puck in the net as of late. With Cammalleri back in the line-up, there is hope that Jacques Martin can find that elusive combination of forwards to get the puck to the net, create traffic, and score goals.
Where there has been a lack in offense from the big guns, it’s been up to the likes of David Desharnais and Benoit Pouliot to overachieve. Their lights have shone brightly in the past, but there is a need for a rejuvenated spark tonight.
So the stage is set for what could be one of the most important games the Habs have played this season. A four game losing streak could be devastating to a team that will not see any easy schedule ahead of them. The Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Carolina Hurricanes complete the month of February. Both teams that Montreal has had success against, but nothing is a given in either match.
The month of March will be even tougher as the Canadiens will face all the contenders, including the Thrashers, Lightning, Penguins, Capitals, as well as their division rivals – the Boston Bruins.
A long road ahead that begins tonight in Vancouver.