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The rest of the NHL has seen that the Montreal Canadiens are one of the league's best road teams, but their lackluster play at home has been holding them back from being an elite team.
Those struggles may be over.
The Canadiens (27-15-9) looks for a point in their fifth straight game - including two dominant home wins - as they host the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Montreal has the Eastern Conference's best road record at 17-7-4, yet on Dec. 18, they were only 6-7-4 at the Bell Centre.
Since the start of the new year though, they're 4-1-1 on home ice, and looked unstoppable in their latest two wins. Montreal scored a season high in goals in an 8-2 rout of Boston on Jan. 22, and after a win at New Jersey, dominated Washington 4-0 at home on Tuesday for its first shutout since Nov. 5.
|Alexei Kovalev (27) leads the Canadiens with 22 goals. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)|
Montreal completed its home-and-home with the Capitals on Thursday, losing 5-4 in overtime, but the visit from the Islanders (24-22-6) begins a four-game homestand. The Canadiens are alone second place in the Eastern Conference, but five points behind Northeast division rival Ottawa.
"With the way we're playing now, we're within reach of Ottawa with a game in hand and we play them five more times," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau told the team's official Web site. "That gives us a new objective."
The Canadiens will face the Senators twice next week, but left wing Christopher Higgins realizes that in order to have any chance of finishing atop the East, they'll have to play better in Montreal - and that starts against New York.
"The obvious (goal) is playing better at home," said Higgins, a Long Island native who has seven goals in nine lifetime games versus the Islanders. "If we can put that together, then I think the sky's the limit for this team."
Montreal has 20 goals in its last four games, and Higgins is one of 12 Canadiens to score in that span. Alexei Kovalev leads the team with 22 goals, but four others, including Higgins, have at least 14.
A large part of the team's offensive success can be attributed to the power play. Montreal is second in the NHL with the man advantage, converting 24.3 percent of its chances.
|Cristobal Huet (left) is 5-2-0 versus the Islanders, while Mike Comrie leads them with 37 points. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)|
The Canadiens have scored just once on the power play in nine tries against the Islanders, but won both meetings this season in New York. They also have won nine of the past 11 meetings in Montreal.
Goaltender Cristobal Huet is 10-2-2 in his last 14 starts with a 2.38 goals-against average, and has been even better against the Islanders in his career, going 5-2-0 with one tie and a 1.87 GAA.
New York is hoping to avoid a fourth straight defeat. The Islanders have struggled to score all season - they're among the league's bottom five in goals - and have been outscored 12-4 in their current skid.
Their latest poor effort came in a 3-1 home loss on Thursday to Los Angeles, the league's worst team.
"We didn't seem to be able to get anything going," coach Ted Nolan said. "That second period was like watching paint dry."
Where the Canadiens are among the league's best power-play units, the Islanders are in the bottom third of the league, converting only 16.2 percent. They've been worse in their past 13 games, scoring just five times in 42 opportunities (11.9 percent).
Bill Guerin - New York's leading goal-scorer with 18 - has no points in his last five games, and Mike Comrie, who has a team-high 37 points, has just one assist in his last six contests.
Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro is 0-3-1 with a 4.00 GAA in his last four starts.