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The Habs this week - Jan. 5, 2009

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Canadiens @ Rangers – Wednesday, Jan. 7 @ 7:30 PM

The bright lights of the Big Apple haven’t been all that kind to the Canadiens over the last few years.  Though successful on home ice in their last two meetings, Montreal hasn’t found the magic touch at Madison Square Garden since emerging with a win back on October 31, 2005.

While offense is often a key part of any victory, it couldn’t be truer than when these two Original Six foes square off.  In their 13 tilts in the post-lockout NHL, the winning squad has scored at least three goals a dozen times, 11 of those victories coming with at least four tallies.

A blazing start to the campaign encountered a slowdown in December; the Blueshirts posted a 6-5-1 record heading into to 2009 and had dropped four of their last five heading into Monday’s date with the Penguins.

Keep an eye on:
Sergei Kostitsyn:
Points haven’t been easy to come by for the younger Kostitsyn in his sophomore season.  Stalled offensively since notching a pair of goals on Dec. 20, two assists on Sunday against Florida helped him snapped a five-game streak without a point. Perhaps a tilt with the Rangers will offer a little more luck; Kostitsyn has three points in four games against New York.

Markus Naslund: Clearly, Naslund has no problems with the spotlight that comes along with New York City.  After spending 12 years in a Canucks uniform, the former Vancouver captain swapped coasts over the summer and has helped pick up some of the slack offensively on Broadway.  Heading into Monday’s action, Naslund led all Rangers in goals (14) and sat second in overall team scoring (27 points).

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs – Thursday, Jan. 8 @ 7:30 PM

Two months have passed since the Habs and Leafs last faced off and it’s a safe bet the Canadiens will be looking to avenge that night, when they dropped a 6-3 decision at the Air Canada Centre.  Thursday’s tilt marks the first Bell Centre visit for Toronto this season.

The Maple Leafs have slightly exceeded expectations so far and, as of Monday, remarkably finds themselves within striking distance of the eighth seed in the East.  To have any hope of an extended season, the Maple Leafs will have to find a way to keep pucks out of their own net; Ron Wilson’s crew sits 28th in the league in goals-against, with 134 pucks finding the back of their net.

Keep an eye on:
Guillaume Latendresse:
Good buddies off the ice, Latendresse has clearly enjoyed skating alongside Maxim Lapierre over the last few games.  Heading into the first week of 2009, the 21-year-old had picked up three points in his last four games.  Though the Leafs are from his favorite victim, they’ve been just that this year, with three points in the first two games of the season series.

Tomas Kaberle: After a hot stretch early in the season, the veteran defenseman has struggled for consistency of late.  He put up three multi-assist efforts in mid-December, but has only earned two points since Dec. 20, both helpers.  In fact, goals have eluded Kaberle for much of the campaign; he’s scored just twice all season and none since Nov. 13.

Canadiens vs. Capitals – Saturday, Jan. 10 @ 7 PM

For the second time in a month, the Canadiens will welcome the Capitals to the Bell Centre, looking for their first win against the Southeast Division leaders this season.  Bruce Boudreau’s crew, who fell just three times in all of December, heads into the week riding a six-game winning streak.  Four of those came on home ice, where the Capitals have been nearly unbeatable.  The road has been a different story, though; Washington is 9-10-2 away from the Verizon Center, including two of their December losses coming on enemy ice.

After enduring their own back-to-back set earlier in the week, the Canadiens will sit at home and wait while the Capitals face the Blue Jackets at home on Friday.

Keep an eye on:
Tomas Plekanec:
There was likely a smile on Plekanec’s face when the calendar switched to January.  The first month of the new year has been quite kind to the Habs’ center over the course of his career, as he’s amassed a monthly-best 13 goals and 31 points in 32 games.  While he’s busy producing offensively, that’s led to less time in penalty box for Plekanec, who’s sat for just 14 minutes, his second-lowest total.

Alexander Ovechkin: It’s often said, let sleeping dogs lie and Guy Carbonneau’s squad would be wise to heed that advice.  Though Ovecking has feasted on the Canadiens over the years, 2008-09 has been rather quiet in comparison. The NHL superstar has just two points in the two matchup so far this season, after amassing 16 in the previous 14 tilts.

Heather Engel is a writer for

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