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Game Preview: Sharks @ Canadiens

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

SHARKS (8-1-1) @ CANADIENS (6-4-0)

After a convincing home win against the Anaheim Ducks, the Habs will face off against one of the hottest teams in the NHL on Saturday in the San Jose Sharks.

While the Sharks finally lost in regulation, dropping a 2-1 decision on Thursday to the Bruins on a last-second goal from David Kreji, the Northern California-based franchise sits tied alongside the Canucks for the second-most points in the league with 17 in 10 games so far this season. The Habs, meanwhile, snapped a two-game losing streak by dominating the Ducks 4-1 at the Bell Centre in their most recent outing.

Though the Montreal crowd eagerly welcomed former captain Saku Koivu back to the city, it was the home team that gave the fans most to cheer about. Linemates Michael Bournival, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta struck early and often against Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller, amassing a combined seven points on the night and putting the game out of reach by the middle of the second period. Rene Bourque completed the scoring with a power play marker in the third, while Carey Price stopped 31 of 32 shots against.

The key to the game is whether Montreal will be able to shut down San Jose’s high-powered offence, as the Sharks boast a league-leading 41 goals. The secret to the Sharks’ success is simple: put the puck on net as often as possible, while denying their opponents the opportunity to do the same. Despite Thursday’s defeat, Todd McLellan’s squad outshot Boston by a 40-19 margin. Even with the absence of top blue-liner Dan Boyle, six players on the Sharks’ roster are producing at a point-per-game pace, including Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. Goaltender Antti Niemi, who has played every minute of the 2013-14 season for the Sharks, continues to impress between the pipes. He’ll be helped on the back end by Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who log the most minutes on the team.

The Habs, who continue to deal with the absence of scoring threats Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere, have been relying on the production of P.K. Subban, Lars Eller and Plekanec to fill the void up front. The emergence of rookie Michael Bournival, who provides grit and speed on the left flank of the Plekanec line, will take some of the pressure off of the explosive Galchenyuk-Eller-Gallagher trio, allowing Michel Therrien to match lines with the Sharks’ best. If all else fails, Carey Price will be in nets to thwart the visitors’ scoring opportunities.

The Habs hold a 10-2 lifetime home record against San Jose, and haven’t lost to the Sharks at the Bell Centre since 2002. Overall, the Canadiens have come out on top in 14 of 28 meetings with San Jose since the team’s inception in 1992.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST.

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