With the All-Star break all said and done, it’s time to kick off the unofficial second half of the season with a tilt in Tampa. The once-stumbling Lightning appear to have found their legs of late, going 6-4-0 since Jan. 4. That successful stretch has seen the club creep up to 12th place in the Eastern Conference and, at nine points back of eighth place, potentially setting its sights on getting into the postseason mix.Keep an eye on:
After missing the last meeting with the Lightning while recovering from an ankle injury, Koivu likely didn’t want to miss another, and with good reason. The Canadiens captain has been a scoresheet regular over the course of his career against Tampa Bay, producing at a personal-best 1.2 point-per-game clip in 33 contests.
He may be a few days shy of his 41st birthday but the former Hab still has some fuel left in the tank. Recchi has suited up for each of the Lightning’s 47 games so far this season and finds himself sitting third in team scoring with 31 points, behind only Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Canadiens @ Panthers – Thursday, Jan. 29 @ 7 PM
For years, the Panthers fell into the Canadiens’ “nemesis” category. Lately, though, it would seem the tide has begun to turn. Heading into the season, Montreal’s longest winning/unbeaten streak against Florida had never gone beyond three games; Thursday night, they’ll ride a stretch of five straight victories against them into the BankAtlantic Center.
January has been a glass half-full, half-empty type of month for the Panthers. Peter DeBoer’s charges won four of five to open up the month, then dropped three of four before the All-Star break. However, they’ve suffered just one regulation loss heading into the week, snapping an eight-game points streak.Keep an eye on:
His first NHL hat trick was the highlight of the Canadiens’ brief sweep through the Sunshine state one month ago. And, while not relied upon to be a primary offensive source, Lapierre has shown a bit of a knack for some late-game scoring in his career; just over a third of his 44 career points have come in the final five minutes of a contest.David Booth:
Booth is certainly giving the Panthers a boost. In his third NHL campaign, the 24-year-old is leading his team in shots (145), goals (19) and points (31), and as of Monday, sat just nine points shy of last season’s 40-point total. He doesn’t seem to have a preference for scoring in a specific period this year, with 11 points coming in the first, nine in the middle frame and 10 in the final stanza.
Canadiens vs. Kings – Saturday, Jan. 31 @ 2 PM
The annual Super Bowl weekend matinee matchups opens up as the Kings come to town for the first time since December 2005. Montreal hasn’t been kind to Los Angeles over the years; the team has won just eight times as the visitor since joining the league in 1967 and hasn’t beaten the Canadiens in their rink since a 4-2 triumph in December 1999.
The Kings headed into the All-Star break on a high note, snapping a four-game slide with two wins in a row for the first time since mid-December. Those two victories inched Los Angeles closer to a sniff at the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, sitting just six points of the Ducks heading into the week. Keep an eye on:
After posting career numbers across the board last season, Plekanec has struggled to find his touch this year. Just two assists shy of 100 in his career, the Czech native has been stalled at 20 points for the last five games, after picking up four points in his previous three outings.Dustin Brown:
While he leads the Kings in goal-scoring (17) and sits second on the team in points (33), Brown isn’t just trouble on the scoresheet. The first-year captain enjoys laying out the body and led the league in that department in 2007-08, just ahead of the Habs’ Mike Komisarek. This year, Brown is second in the NHL and first among forwards in crushing checks, with 168 through 46 games.Canadiens vs. Bruins – Sunday, Feb. 1 @ 2 PM
One year ago, the Canadiens were cruising through their season series against the Bruins. This year, the Bruins have exacted some revenge, winning three straight heading into the fifth meeting of the season on Sunday.
While the Habs will try to do their part in closing the gap on the Bruins’ 13-point division lead, they’ll hope for some help from Boston’s opponents this week. Claude Julien’s crew dropped two of three ahead of the break and will face some stiff competition in the form of the Capitals, Devils and Rangers before coming to Montreal.
Sunday’s tilt will be the 24th time in club history the Canadiens have hit the ice on Super Bowl Sunday and the big day hasn’t bothered them one bit; the Habs have posted a 15-6-2 lifetime record on the same day as the NFL’s championship game.
Keep an eye on:
Facing the Bruins seems to bring out the best in Kostitsyn, who has 15 points in 15 games against the Canadiens’ division rival. And while the club has only played two games on the second day of the weekend this season, the left-winger, who will blow out 24 candles on Sunday, might want to request more; Kostitsyn has three goals and four points in those contests.David Krejci:
After a slow start to the season, Krejci has been cranking it up since mid-November, piling up points in 18 of 19 games from Nov. 19 through Jan. 1. While his production has dropped off slightly this month, he’s had four multi-point outings so far in January.Heather Engel is a writer for canadiens.com