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Game preview: Canadiens @ Avalanche

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

CANADIENS (8-6-0) vs. AVALANCHE (11-1-0)

In the second leg of the team’s inaugural father-son trip, the Habs will face off against familiar faces in the Mile High City.

The Avs are led by former Canadiens great Patrick Roy, a first-year head coach at the NHL level. The three-time Stanley Cup winner has done a remarkable job since taking over for outgoing bench boss Joe Sacco, who failed to take the team into the playoffs over the course of three straight seasons. Defying all expectations, the rookie head coach managed to revamp the team’s culture and attitude despite having largely the same group of players at his disposition. The results were immediate: the Avs started their season off with six straight wins and now sits atop the Central Division.

While Colorado does not possess an overpowering offence, the squad can count on goal production from a variety of sources. Matt Duchene (13 points in 11 games), Gabriel Landeskog (8 points in 10 games) and Alex Tanguay (8 points in 11 games) are the club’s primary scoring threats. Other offensive standouts on the roster include Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly and 2013 first-overall selection Nathan MacKinnon.

Where the Avalanche has really earned its wins is on the defensive side of the puck. The league’s stingiest defence has only averaged a goal and a half against per game and dominates on the penalty kill, thwarting opposing power play units at a 92 percent clip. Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson and Andre Benoit have earned the head coach’s trust, playing heavy minutes in all situations for the Avs. Combine this with the outstanding play of Semyon Varlamov and J-S Giguere, and it’s plain to see that putting up points against Colorado will be a challenge for even the most skilled of skaters.

On the Habs’ side, Tomas Plekanec heads into the game tied with P.K. Subban for the team lead in scoring with 11 points in 13 games. They are followed closely by linemates Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, who each have nine points on the year. The number of offensive weapons at Michel Therrien’s disposal will likely be augmented by the return to action of Max Pacioretty, who had been out for the past three weeks with a lower-body injury. The former 30-goal scorer should add considerable punch to the Habs’ power play, which has been productive even in the absence of the team’s top shooter.

With Carey Price starting against Minnesota on Friday, Peter Budaj will make his third start of the season versus his former team on Saturday night. The Slovakian goaltender has stopped 54 of the 55 shots he’s faced thus far this season, most recently earning a shutout against the New York Rangers in his last start. Across the ice, Patrick Roy will likely opt for Semyon Varlamov, if he is available. The Russian netminder is 7-1 with a .945 save percentage in 2013-14.

Puck drop is scheduled at 10 p.m. EST.

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