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One more test

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – There’s nothing the Canadiens would like more than to head into the NHL’s Christmas break on a high note, but the New York Islanders should present a formidable challenge on Tuesday night.

Jack Capuano’s contingent has played solid hockey since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, posting a sparkling 23-10-0 record through 33 games. They currently sit second in the Eastern Conference with 46 points, which also ranks them fourth in the league, just three points back of the first-place Anaheim Ducks.

The Islanders will be riding a four-game winning streak entering Tuesday night’s tilt at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, while the Canadiens picked up eight out of a possible ten points on their season-long five-game home stand in front of the Bell Centre faithful.

“We haven’t seen the Islanders yet, but just from playing against them in the past, they do a great job of creating chances off the rush. They’re a fast team. They use their speed well. It makes for a good matchup any time we play them,” offered Brendan Gallagher, who boasts nine goals and 18 points in 34 games this season. “We kind of play the same way. It’s always a fast-paced game. You’ve got to be ready to work right from puck drop. We know they always will. They’re off to a really good start. Their record at home is pretty good, so it’s going to be tough for us.”

Gallagher certainly has a point there. The Islanders are 13-3-0 on home ice, and they’ve come out on top in their last three outings in Uniondale, NY.

“This is another important game. We kind of say that every night. You feel like every game is important. But, it’s no different going in there. It’s a good test. We’re playing a really good hockey team, a team that’s got some important pieces,” stressed Gallagher, referencing the likes of perennial scoring threats John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson, all of whom have helped the Islanders become the league’s fifth-ranked offensive unit in 2014-15 with just under three goals per game. “They’re having some fun right now. They’re having success. We just need to focus on what we need to do, focus on ourselves, take care of what we can control and try to go in there and get a result.”

New York’s early-season success isn’t a surprise to Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who called Long Island his hockey home between 2010 and 2012.

“They had so many good young players in their system. They have one of the best players in the league in Tavares. They acquired two good defensemen before the season began [in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk]. That gave them a boost, too,” mentioned Parenteau, who registered 38 goals and 120 points in 161 career regular-season games with the Islanders. “They’re a good hockey team. We’ll have to be ready for them, for sure.”

That includes being prepared to give Islanders netminder Jaroslav Halak all he can possibly handle and then some. Halak has been brilliant through 24 outings this season, registering 18 victories, a 2.24 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts.

“It’s always good to see a friend and a former teammate do well. He kind of bounced around a little bit, but he seems to have really found his groove there,” offered Carey Price, who, like Halak, has 18 wins to his credit in 2014-15. “I haven’t watched a whole lot of their games to be honest. I know the addition of those pretty big quality defensemen back there really helped their team. They’ve got a lot of talent up front. Jaro’s playing well. Hopefully, they’ll bring out the best in us.”

With that in mind, head coach Michel Therrien expects his troops to rise to the occasion and put forward another good effort before some well-deserved time off.

“I don’t use the fact that there’s break coming up as an excuse for our guys not to play well. It’s the same thing for the Islanders. I think it’s to our advantage to play on the road. There will be fewer distractions around,” explained Therrien, whose club will enjoy a three-day break following the game in Long Island before hitting the road again on Saturday to begin a four-game road swing. “The Islanders are playing really good hockey, so the challenge will be there.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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