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The Habs this week - Dec. 29, 2008

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Canadiens @ Panthers – Monday, Dec. 29 @ 7:30 PM

Canadiens vs. Panthers – Sunday, Jan. 4 @ 2 PM

For the second time in three weeks, Guy Carbonneau’s crew will begin and wrap up their week with a home-and-home set against a Southeast Division opponent.  This week, it’s the Panthers.

While the Canadiens will be wearing their road whites on Monday, it will certainly have the feel of a home game. It’s no coincidence that the Habs enjoy the Florida sun at the same time that many of their fans choose to venture south for winter break.

After a mediocre debut to the campaign, the Panthers have stepped up their collective game through December.  The club has posted a 7-2-1 record so far this month but, after posting back-to-back shutouts just ahead of the holiday break, Peter DeBoer’s crew hit a skid over the weekend, coming out on the short end of a pair of tilts against the Lightning.

Keep an eye on:
Josh Gorges:
He’s neither Mr. Flash nor a scoresheet regular, but he certainly is consistent.  After a stellar performance alongside Andrei Markov during Mike Komisarek’s absence, Gorges hasn’t missed a beat while paired with Roman Hamrlik.  Monday will mark an important milestone in the 24-year-old’s young career; the never-drafted rearguard will appear in his 200th NHL contest when he faces the Panthers. Gorges currently leads all Habs with a plus-17 rating through 34 games, ranking him among the top 10 in the league.

Bryan McCabe: The Florida sun seems to agree with the former Maple Leafs defenseman. Though sidelined by injury for the first month of the season, McCabe has proven to be a solid complement to the Panthers’ defense corps. The veteran blue-liner is fourth in team scoring with 15 points and, while his defensive shortcomings were well documented over the last several years, he boasts a plus-10 rating, second-best on the Florida roster.

Canadiens @ Lightning – Tuesday, Dec. 30 @ 7:30 PM

The brief visit to the Sunshine State wraps up with the first trip to St. Pete Times Forum this season.  The Canadiens will likely be looking to avenge their performance against Vincent Lecavalier and Co. back on Dec. 11 at the Bell Centre, when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Lightning.  That marked just the second victory for the Lightning under interim head coach Rick Tocchet and while they aren’t too far from the NHL’s cellar, a three-game winning streak has them looking ahead. The Bolts boast the fewest wins in the entire league but, thanks to nine losses in extra time, sit three points shy of the basement with 29 points.

Keep an eye on:
Alex Kovalev:
Just call him Mr. December.  In the third month of the season, the veteran winger appears to have found his game, earning 11 points in as many games (as of Sunday), a team-high shared with Robert Lang.  The final month of calendar year has been kind to Kovalev over the course of his career, notching 157 points.  He’s also been the most helpful during the month, amassing 100 assists, including eight this year so far.

Martin St. Louis: Check the Lightning’s game summaries so far in December and St. Louis’ name will often be there.  The Laval native has earned at least a point in eight tilts this month and added four more to his team-best totals on Saturday night against the Panthers.  Tampa Bay’s overall struggles are evident in St. Louis’ numbers, though, with the diminutive forward on pace for a 10-point drop-off from last season’s 83-point output.

Canadiens @ Devils – Friday, Jan. 2 @ 7 PM

Martin who? Okay, so the Devils haven’t completely forgotten about their champion netminder but they’re proving that, despite many beliefs to the contrary, Brodeur is just one piece of the puzzle.  That’s not the only myth they’ve dispelled since losing their No. 1 goalie on Nov. 1; long known for their success at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Devils have shown they can find the twine more than a few times per night, as well. Heading into Monday’s action, Brent Sutter’s crew had lit the lamp at least three times in seven of their eight wins this month. 

For many years, New Jersey wasn’t the most hospitable arena for the Habs.  That changed in 2007-08 when Guy Carbonneau’s squad snapped a lengthy winless drought against the Devils with three straight triumphs in the season series. After dropping an overtime decision at home on Dec. 6, Montreal is now 3-0-1 against New Jersey in the last four meetings, outscoring them 11-5 during that stretch.

Keep an eye on:
Alex Tanguay:
He may have faced the Devils less than a dozen times in his nine-year career but that hasn’t stopped Tanguay from putting up the points.  The 29-year-old has 12 points in 11 games against New Jersey, including five in four contests as the visitor.

Brian Gionta: After putting up 89 points in 2005-06, Gionta saw his numbers tail off significantly in the following two seasons.  This year, he appears to be getting back on track.  The Rochester, New York native has 29 points so far – albeit only nine goals, heading into Monday’s schedule – and is on pace to surpass the 70-point mark for just the second time in his career.

Heather Engel is a writer for
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