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The Habs this week

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – December could easily be nicknamed “First meeting month.”  Of the 17 teams they’ll face more than once this season, the Canadiens will square off with six of them for the first time this season in the final month of the calendar year.

Canadiens vs. Thrashers – Tuesday, Dec. 2 @ 7:30 PM

The busy month begins with a tilt with the Atlanta Thrashers. After a forgettable October that saw the club post just a pair of wins, Atlanta had a better November with a 6-6-1 record that included a five-game winning streak.

The Canadiens and Thrashers split last year’s season series, but the Habs held the slight edge, earning at least a point in every contest.

Keep an eye on:
Robert Lang:
It appears that Bob Gainey’s “Plan B” is deserving of an A through his first two months in a Canadiens sweater.  Lang is fourth among forwards and fifth overall in Habs scoring with 14 points. He’s also had a solid career against Atlanta, amassing 32 points in just 20 games.

Bryan Little: The Thrashers’ first round pick in the 2006 draft is off to a solid start in his sophomore campaign.  Little has surpassed last year’s totals with 20 points in 23 games so far.  He’s also had multi-point efforts five times this year and has not been held off the scoresheet more than two games in a row.

Canadiens vs. Rangers – Thursday, Dec. 4 @ 7 PM

Happy 99th birthday! The Canadiens will celebrate their final year in double digits with an Original Six Salute against the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts have dispelled the notion that opening the season in Europe can be costly, currently leading the Atlantic Division and as of Monday, in second place in the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens salvaged one win from the Rangers last season but boy, did they make sure no one would ever forget it.  Guy Carbonneau watched as his squad chipped away at a 5-0 lead before none other than captain Saku Koivu sealed the deal with the winner in the shootout.

Keep an eye on:
Andrei Kostitsyn:
The 23-year-old had one his best games of the young season Saturday night against the Sabres, scoring a goal and an assist for his third multi-point effort so far.  The elder Kostitsyn has seven points in as many games against the Rangers, who will want to be particularly alert during the middle frame; Andrei has scored 33 of his 76 career points (totals as of Monday) in the second period alone.

Nikolai Zherdev: It would seem that he was just wearing the wrong shade of blue. Traded from the Blue Jackets to the Rangers in the offseason, Zherdev is enjoying the Broadway spotlight. The right-winger, who was drafted six spots ahead of Kostitsyn in 2003, leads Tom Renney’s crew with 23 points and a plus-11 differential.  It’s the first time in his career that Zherdev has owned a positive rating.

Canadiens vs. Devils – Saturday, Dec. 6 @ 7 PM

After struggling against the Devils for so many years, the Canadiens broke through in 2007-08, winning three straight while outscoring New Jersey 10-4.  They’d definitely like to keep that stretch going, especially with their primary nemesis – Martin Brodeur – out for several months.

Despite losing their star goaltender, the Devils have performed admirably in his absence.  Heading into Monday’s action, Brent Sutter’s troop is 12-8-2 and had a five-game winning streak snapped by the Penguins on Saturday.

Keep an eye on:
Maxim Lapierre:
Though not expected to lead the way offensively, Lapierre can chip in on occasion; as of Monday, the 23-year-old had three points in his last four games.  The upcoming month has also been the second-most productive in Lapierre’s career, with eight points in 16 games.  He also has posted a plus-7, his best differential of any month in the regular season.

Zach Parise:
Ever since he broke into the league in 2005-06, Parise has looked nowhere but up.  He led his team in scoring last season and has continued that wave into this year, with 25 points in 22 games. While he’s been successful against the Canadiens (eight points in 12 games), it hasn’t come at the Bell Centre; Parise has just one assist in six appearances in Montreal.

Heather Engel is a writer for

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