Wild look for more against Habs
Thursday, 12.17.2009 / 7:00 PM
WILD (16-14-3) at CANADIENS (15-17-3)
-- Minnesota 8-2-0, Montreal 3-5-2.
-- This is the only meeting for this season. The last time they met was in Minnesota back on Oct. 30, 2008. Just to give an idea of the difference a year makes, the big story in that one was how the Habs managed to stop the League's best power play 10 times and make Carey Price
's solid performance stand in a 2-1 win in St. Paul. That power play is part of history, as Minnesota is strictly mid-pack with a man up these days, going 0 for their last 19 chances, but going 3-2-0 in that stretch.
-- Just as it's been with a lot of other teams, the Wild are moving up when a lot of teams are either keeping their heads above water or trying not to go into a free fall. The Habs went into Thursday's action losers of four in a row while the Wild righted themselves quickly at home after getting edged out in Vancouver.
One side story is the return of Guillaume Latendresse
to the Bell Centre, 10 games after being traded from the Canadiens to the Wild for Benoit Pouliot. The 22-year-old defenseman has found a niche in Minnesota, scoring three goals along with some big hits.
-- They don't stay down very long and they don't stay home very long either. Everyone knows how hot the Wild have been since Thanksgiving weekend, going 8-2-0 with six of those 10 on the road. They stopped by for a taste of home cooking but had to eat and run as they went back on the road for two more.
The quick stop was at least productive as the Wild came up with a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, on Marek Zidlicky
's go-ahead goal ith 38.8 seconds left in regulation. They came out strong but the effort tapered off as the game progressed, possibly due to the long road trip.
"I don't think too many guys are happy with the way we played," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "We're happy we won, but I'm leaving the rink tonight not feeling great."
-- After spending the first two weeks of December going back and forth between the Bell Centre and regional rivals, this meeting with the Wild will be the last the Habs see of Montreal for a while as they embark on a long seven-game swing all the way down the East Coast, finishing up in Florida on New Year's Eve before starting 2010 back at the Bell Centre.
It started out nicely enough for the Habs in New Jersey, keeping the Devils down through four power-play opportunities before Travis Moen
finished a 3-on-2 shorthanded break to put his team ahead in the first. The Devils tied it in the second on Ilkka Pikkarainen's first NHL goal and then played a chess match with the Habs until Patrik Elias found the mark with 2:36 remaining in regulation.
-- Martin Havlat added an assist against the Blue Jackets, which means he now has a hand in six of the Wild's last seven goals. Habs forward Michael Cammalleri
has eight points in his last seven games.
-- One piece of good news coming out of the practice rink is how Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov
has progressed ahead of schedule. After suffering cut tendons in his ankle during the first game of the season, a post-Olympic return seemed optimistic. He's been practicing with the team and a late-December comeback doesn't look so far-fetched.
Defenseman Paul Mara (upper body) was questionable for New Jersey and didn't play. Wild forward Andrew Ebbett (concussion) remains a possibility to crack the lineup either in Montreal or Ottawa. Goalie Josh Harding
(flu) stayed home Tuesday to rest and avoid infecting the team. Owen Nolan (leg) remains day-to-day while Petr Sykora (concussion) continues to skate on his own and ramp up his off-ice workouts.
-- Given the near-invincibility of the Penguins and Thrashers when they score first, what the Wild have done in recent weeks is truly remarkable. They've allowed the game's first goal in 12 of their last 14 games, but are 9-3-2 in that stretch. They've played in an NHL-leading 22 one-goal games, are 13-6-3 for the League lead in one-goal wins as well.
-- Losing streak and all, the Habs remain in a three-way tie with the Islanders and Panthers for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Wild still have some climbing to do to catch the eighth-seeded Red Wings, four points ahead in the West.