Season Series: The Canadiens and the Thrashers wrap up their four-game season series Monday in Atlanta, with the first three games having been decided by one goal. The Habs took the first game in the shootout, 2-1 on Oct 20, while Atlanta won the next two, 5-4 on Nov. 3 and 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 12.
Big Story: Andrei Markov's return to the Habs' lineup on Saturday put a huge grin on the face of every Canadiens' fan. The All-Star defenseman, who turned 31 on Sunday, scored two goals against the Islanders after having been out since the first game of the season with served ankle tendons. Markov's return will certainly strengthen Montreal's defense, which has struggled without his presence.
"He's an All-Star defenseman that has great vision and moves the puck well," said coach Jacques Martin of Markov. "It's nice to get a top player back. Those guys are hard to replace. His execution was really outstanding."
Canadiens: Montreal entered Saturday's game against the Islanders with five straight defeats, but were able to rebound, in part to Markov's return, with a 3-0 win. Jaroslav Halak got the start and made 40 saves for his third straight win over the Islanders this season and fifth career shutout, while the defense blocked 24 shots for its goaltender.
With Markov's return, defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron moves to the fourth line as a forward, but remains one of the team's power-play specialists. Bergeron, who was named the third star on Saturday, assisted on Markov's second goal. All three Montreal goals were scored with the extra man.
"Our power play has been one of our strengths, just like our penalty killing," Bergeron said. "Two more games before going home for Christmas, it's already a key time in the year. We put ourselves in a hole, so we can't lay off."
Thrashers: Atlanta got off to a great start on Saturday against the Devils, scoring three goals on six shots against New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur. While the Thrashers managed to chase Brodeur off the ice, the Devils rallied for a 5-4 win.
Entering Saturday's contest, Atlanta had won three of its last four, including the 4-3 overtime win over Montreal. But with Saturday's defeat, the Thrashers have also allowed an average of 42 shots on goal in their last four; 42 against the Devils and 47 in a 6-5 overtime win over the Stars on Thursday. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec still made a respectable 37 saves against the Devils, 23 of which came in the first period.
"It was a similar game to the other night, but our goaltender couldn't fend it off for the whole game this time," said Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey. "We were outplayed in all areas except the goaltender position for at least the first 30 minutes. ...You're not going to survive in this League giving up 45 shots a game on average. We've given up 47 to the Rangers, 48 the other night, 42 tonight. You just won't survive. We did this week, getting a couple wins, but you won't over the course of the season. It has to be addressed. Bad stuff is going to happen when you're giving up 45 shots."
Who's Hot: With the previous five-game slump, no one has been particularly hot for the Canadiens, other than Andrei Kostitsyn, who has five goals and two assists in his last five games, including two against Atlanta on Dec. 12. ... Thrashers defenseman Pavel Kubina had a goal and an assist on Saturday, for a three-game point streak. Ilya Kovalchuk is riding a six-game point streak and has nine points during that span.
Injury Report: Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen (back) is on the injured reserve list and defenseman Mark Popovic is out with a broken foot. … After a tough few months of injuries, the Habs are down to only three injured players. Defenseman Roman Hamrlik (knee) and left wing Benoit Pouliot (wrist) are doubtful for Monday. Right wing Brian Gionta is out with a broken foot, but has resumed skating. Both Hamrlik and Gionta are traveling with the team.
Stat Pack: With Toby Enstrom's assist on Pavel Kubina's goal Saturday, he passed Frantisek Kaberle for the Thrashers' all-time leader in assists by a defenseman with 83.
Puck Drop: This season series has been a tight one from the start thanks to three awfully close games. While it unfortunately has to come to an end on Monday, Round 4 should be no different than the previous three as both teams are yearning to work out their respective kinks and pick up some crucial points.