PANTHERS (4-3-0) at CANADIENS (1-4-2)
TV: RDS (HD),FS-F
Season Series: This is the first meeting of the season for Montreal and Florida. The Canadiens took three of four from the Panthers last season, including their most recent matchup, a 4-0 win for the Habs at the BankAtlantic Center on March 3.
Big Story: Florida's modus operandi as a rebuilding project has been clear since Dale Tallon became general manager, but Monday will be one of the biggest tests in that journey as the Panthers play their first game after trading young winger David Booth to Vancouver.
Panthers: Florida had been shutout in consecutive losses last week before Tallon decided to pull the trigger on Saturday's surprising deal -- in part, he said, because he needed to shake up the team given its recent performance. When all was said and done, Booth, Steven Reinprecht and a third-round draft pick were bound for Vancouver, but the Panthers got quality talent in return in veteran forwards Mikael Samuelsson
and Marco Sturm
. They seemed to respond appropriately, too, rallying from two deficits to top the Islanders 4-2 Saturday night.
That win came largely on the shoulders of Shawn Matthias
, who tallied his first three points of the year in the win, but a large amount of credit is also due to goalie Jacob Markstrom
, who came into the game in relief of Jose Theodore
and pitched a perfect 20 minutes in the final period. With a big win change to their roster and a nice win in their pockets, the pressure will be on the Panthers Monday to keep the momentum going.
Canadiens: To say this season isn't going quite how the fans in Montreal were expecting so far would be like saying Shakespeare wrote some plays. Expectations are always high in the Canadiens' rabid hockey town, but five straight losses and a 1-4-2 record seven games into the 2011-12 season are not a good sign for a team that has made the playoffs four straight springs.
Saturday night's overtime loss to the hated Maple Leafs might have been the most frustrating one yet, as the Canadiens let a third-period lead slip against an historic rival before falling in overtime, but losses to Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Colorado and Calgary all sting, particularly considering four of their five losses during the losing streak came at home. They'll be back at the Bell Centre again when Florida comes to town Monday and many will be expecting a change of fortune. Getting that change will have to start in net, however, where starter Carey Price
has an unseemly 3.13 goals-against average to go with his .878 save percentage.
Who's Hot: Kris Versteeg
continues to turn heads for the Panthers, tallying four goals and four assists in the season's first seven games. ... Travis Moen
's career high for goals, 11, was achieved five years ago, but he might consider taking a run at a new mark after tallying twice for the Habs on Saturday night.
Injury Report: Both Shawn Matthias
(illness) and Ed Jovanovski
(hip injury) were back on the ice for Florida in Saturday's win against the Islanders, but forward Sean Bergenheim
(lower-body injury) was placed on injured reserve last week. The Panthers should also be getting goalie Scott Clemmensen
(knee surgery) back soon, which will create a very crowded net given the recent play of Markstrom. ... Scott Gomez
is expected to miss a week for Montreal with an upper-body injury, while Jaroslav Spacek
is likely to be out 1-2 more weeks with an upper-body injury of his own.
Stat Pack: Booth had been faced with high expectations in Florida ever since a 60-point season in 2008-09, but after an injury marred 2009-10 season, his numbers were relatively pedestrian a season ago, picking up just 40 points in 82 games. The biggest number that stood out however was his minus-31 rating in 2010-11. Through six games this season, Booth was already sporting a -6. No doubt the Cats are hoping that at least as far as defense goes, the trade will be addition by subtracting subtraction.
Puck Drop: While both of these teams are in different places than many would have expected in the season's early going, Monday is still a pivotal game for each franchise. Florida has a real opportunity to build momentum following its major roster change, but the bigger pressure is almost certainly on Montreal, which is in desperate need of a turnaround -- and soon.