BROSSARD - Does Claude Julien really think his group has the upper hand against the Rangers because they played last night in Ottawa?
Not necessarily. He insists there's just something about the Bell Centre that tends to give opponents some extra jump.
The veteran bench boss knows that all too well having coached against the Canadiens for years while helming the rival Boston Bruins.
"Coming to Montreal is easy to get motivated for. It's a great rink. It's always packed with atmosphere. That certainly gives the visiting team a bit of a boost. That makes us even more vulnerable if we're not ready," explained Julien, following Saturday morning's optional skate on the South Shore. "It's important for us to be ready tonight. In the last three games, we haven't been able to pick up two points, so it's important for us to change the ending of those games and come away with a win. This game tonight is going to be as important for us as I'm sure it is for them."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference vs. NYR
Julien is referencing the fact that the Habs are riding a three-game winless streak heading into the encounter, having suffered losses at the hands of New Jersey, Columbus and Ottawa over the last week.
For their part, the Rangers were dealt a disappointing 4-1 loss at the hands of the streaking Senators before making the short trip to Montreal.
No doubt the Blueshirts will be hungry to rebound and down the Canadiens in their own barn, so keeping Russian sniper Artemi Panarin off the scoresheet will be of primordial importance.
Panarin's impressive 12-game point streak (7g, 12a) was actually snapped in the nation's capital, but Julien's troops are well aware of his game-breaking ability.
"I think he's just so dynamic. I think the way he sees the ice, the plays he makes, he's one of those guys that creates space for himself when it's not there. That's a pretty elite thing to do," said Nate Thompson, of the Rangers' leading goal-scorer and top point-getter thus far this season. "He's one of those guys we have to make sure that when he's on the ice, we're aware of him."
Video: Nate Thompson on facing the Rangers
Defenseman Mike Reilly, who is returning the lineup after watching the last six games as a healthy scratch, also acknowledged the immense challenge that Panarin presents.
"He's easily one of the most skilled guys in the League. He was just riding a pretty good point streak. He's a guy that's so smart and so strong on the puck, too. I think that's an underrated thing about his game," mentioned Reilly. "He's a hard guy to knock off the puck, and obviously any team that plays him has their hands full. We'll try to get on him quick. You just can't give him time."
Praise for Nick
Youngster Nick Suzuki continues to impress.
With three goals in the last four games, the 20-year-old London, ON native is earning high marks from Julien night after night.
He attributes the former OHL standout's success to gaining experience and the confidence that comes with seeing more and more action in the NHL ranks.
"I think I've seen a guy kind of get better and better and get more accustomed because of the experience he's getting. He wasn't quite ready [early in the season] because he was just starting his pro career and there was a lot of feeling through situations. Now he's feeling more comfortable and feeling more confident having played 20-some games," said Julien. "When you look at how he played last year, we all know he's capable of doing a lot. I think that confidence of him being able to do a lot is coming back. That's a good sign of a young guy getting better. Right now, instead of the intimidation that you sometimes see in a young player, I think that's kind of passed by him now and it's all about 'I'm as confident as anyone else here.'"
Video: Nick Suzuki on playing with Max Domi
With that in mind, Julien believes Suzuki will be just fine playing wing versus New York as Max Domi assumes his spot up the middle on a line that also features Artturi Lehkonen.
"He also managed to produce on the wing. It isn't a problem," indicated Julien. "With respect to Suzuki, he's been playing well of late. We want to keep him with lines that are more productive."
And Suzuki believes playing alongside Domi with some more appearances under his belt will only make the partnership more productive going forward.
"Max plays a really fast-paced style of game. He likes to move the puck a lot. We can make little plays with each other," said Suzuki, who has six goals and 10 points in 22 games. "I started off the season with him and it didn't go so well. I think I'm more prepared now."
Teague's in the house
Uncle Nate will have a little extra support in the stands on Saturday night.
His four-year-old boy, Teague, is visiting from Minnesota and will be watching his first game at the Bell Centre.
We expect the 35-year-old Anchorage, AK native's ritual of handing out pucks during the pregame warmup to include a special delivery - or two - for his son.
No doubt Teague will enjoy every second of his Montreal experience.