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The Habs this week - March 23, 2009

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – The Canadiens continue their five-game homestand this week with a couple of Southeast spoilers followed by a team looking to be part of the "in" crowd.

Canadiens vs. Thrashers – Tuesday, March 24 @ 7:30 PM

Another day, another spoiler.  While March hasn’t been all that kind to the Canadiens, the Thrashers, on the other hand, so far have quite enjoyed the final full month of the campaign. Ilya Kovalchuk and Co. kicked off a six-game winning streak with a 2-0 win over the Habs two and a half weeks ago, and are now 7-3-0 this month. That stretch has ensured the Thrashers a winning record for a second straight month, a feat they hadn’t realized since January and February 2007.

Perhaps working in the Canadiens’ favor is their past success against the Thrashers at the Bell Centre. Montreal is 12-3-0-2 in 17 home meetings against Atlanta, including their 5-4 win back on Dec. 2.

As Bob Gainey continues to look for a spark to get the fire going, he’ll hope one will come with the return of Sergei Kostitsyn. Assigned to Hamilton back on Feb. 17, the 22-year-old had been rolling right along of late, earning 13 points in nine games.

Canadiens vs. Lightning – Thursday, March 26 @ 7:30 PM

The Lightning have long been out of the playoff picture but unlike several of their fellow bottom-feeders, they haven’t spoiled as much for opponents eyeing the postseason in either conference. Ahead of Tuesday night’s matchup against the Blue Jackets, Rick Tocchet’s crew has posted just a 3-9-2 record against clubs with aiming for an extended spring since Feb. 1.

Despite their lack of success against those foes, the Canadiens know what the Lightning are capable of, most notably hometown boys Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.  And while minimizing the opportunities given to the pair is part of the game plan against Tampa Bay, it’s also worth looking out for rookie Steven Stamkos.  Stamkos struggled mightily through the first half and change of the season but has gotten into a groove in March, notching 11 points in 10 games.

Canadiens vs. Sabres – Saturday, March 28 @ 7 PM

While not quite mirror images, the Canadiens and Sabres’ recent plights have both teams understanding quite well what the other is experiencing. Buffalo remains just five points out of a playoff spot, but the club has struggled in the absence of No. 1 goaltender Ryan Miller.  Sidelined since suffering a high ankle sprain against the Rangers on Feb. 21, Lindy Ruff’s crew has struggled, going 3-7-2 in his absence heading into the week.

Those difficulties, combined with a resurgent Senators squad, has the Sabres just two points ahead of Ottawa.  It doesn’t get much easier for Buffalo this week, either; they’ll face the Panthers on Wednesday and the Maple Leafs on Friday before visiting Montreal on Saturday.

It would seem home ice has been an advantage in the season series between the division rivals. The Sabres emerged victorious in all three meetings at HSBC Arena while the Habs have won both Bell Centre contests thus far.

Heather Engel is a writer for

See also:
The last stretch
Max Pacioretty sent down to Hamilton
Habs Notebook - March 23
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