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The Habs this week - Dec. 15, 2008

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Canadiens @ Hurricanes – Tuesday, Dec. 16 @ 7 PM

Canadiens vs. Hurricanes – Sunday, Dec. 21 @ 7 PM

Montreal and Carolina wrap up the season series this week with each club hosting a contest - first in Raleigh on Tuesday before the Habs have a rare Sunday night matchup at the Bell Centre.

Both teams will be looking to get back on track this week.  Plagued by a sudden rash of injuries, the Canadiens are hoping their two-game skid won’t be longer than that. The club has yet to be defeated in three straight in both regulation and overtime.

To keep that streak alive, they’ll need the offense to get back into gear, especially with the man advantage. Guy Carbonneau’s squad has converted just once in its last 22 opportunities, thanks to Patrice Brisebois’ power play marker last Thursday against the Lightning.

Carolina, meanwhile, went back to the future nearly two weeks ago when they replaced head coach Peter Laviolette with the man he replaced, Paul Maurice. It hasn’t yielded the results the team was likely hoping for, with just one win since Maurice returned behind the bench on Dec. 3. The ‘Canes have added a couple of points to their record, though, as three of their last four losses have come in overtime.

Keep an eye on:
Patrice Brisebois:
The lone goal-scorer in each of the last two games, Brisebois has inched himself closer to a milestone moment.  The veteran defenseman, who matched last season’s three-goal total on Saturday night, is just four shy of hitting 100 for his career. He’s also found success against the Hurricanes franchise over the years, notching 25 points in 54 contests, his best numbers against a non-divisional rival.

Justin Williams: After missing the first two months of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, Williams returned to action on Dec. 4.  The right-winger, who picked up his first point in the form of an assist on Thursday, has been eased back into the lineup since then, averaging between 13 and 15 minutes per game. The Habs will likely be hoping to see less of Williams; he’s been a thorn in the Habs’ collective side over the years, scoring at a point-per-game clip, with 24 points in as many games. 

Canadiens vs. Flyers – Thursday, Dec. 18 @ 7 PM

The Flyers edged the Canadiens in their last Bell Centre meeting on Nov. 15 and they haven’t looked back since.  John Stevens’ crew has gone 11-1-2 in its last 14 outings, heading into their Tuesday night tilt versus the Avalanche.  That hot stretch has seen them creep past the Penguins into second place in the Atlantic Division, just four points back of the Rangers.

Philadelphia's run has been buoyed by a sizzling attack that has scored at least three goals in nine of those 11 wins.  On the flip side, though, they haven’t been easy victories; the opposition has lit the lamp at least three times in seven of those triumphs, six of which have been decided by a goal.

Keep an eye on:
Tomas Plekanec:
Held off the scoresheet in his last five games as of Monday, Plekanec likely wouldn’t object to scoring his first career goal versus the Flyers this week.  The 26-year-old pivot has racked up 11 helpers in 14 career games against Philadelphia but it remains the lone team that he’s faced at least four times against whom he has yet to find the twine.

Simon Gagné: Limited to just 25 games last season due to a concussion, Gagné has returned to form this season. The Ste-Foy, Quebec native has piled up 15 goals and 34 points already, with four of his tallies among the Flyers’ league-leading 11 shorthanded markers.

Canadiens vs. Sabres – Saturday, Dec. 20 @ 7 PM

It’s been an up-and-down campaign for the Sabres; October was good, November, not so much. December has been better so far.  Heading into the week, Lindy Ruff’s troop had won four of their last five, scoring four goals in each of those games.  Buffalo has also been pretty stingy while shorthanded, giving up just three power play goals in its last 11 games to rank second in the league as of Monday.

Keep an eye on:
Andrei Kostitsyn:
It would seem that the elder Kostitsyn brother likes scoring goals on Saturdays and in December.  Over the course of his young career, the 23-year-old has found the back of the net 13 times on the primary night of the weekend - the most of any day - and nine times in the final month of the calendar year.  Saturdays are his most productive night of the week (along with Tuesday), with 21 points, while December’s 18 points in 25 games come in second to his March totals.

Thomas Vanek: After enduring a 20-point drop-off last season from the previous campaign, Vanek is showing no signs of history repeating itself this year. The fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft leads the NHL (as of Monday’s schedule) with 24 goals in 30 games; he scored 36 in 2007-08.  Should he keep with his current pace, Vanek could easily surpass his career high of 43 set back in 2006-07.

Heather Engel is a writer for

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