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Gameday: Canes vs. Canadiens

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
For the superstitious, there's a good omen surrounding tonight’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Despite their status as the most successful NHL franchise of all time, the Canadiens have not won a road game on December 23 since all the way back in 1945. Over that span, they have failed 19 times, posting a record of 0-11-8.

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The phenomenon doesn’t seem to have a catchy name – the Montreal media has simply been using “The curse of December 23" – but it’s nonetheless something that the city has its eye on ahead of tonight’s contest.

The Hurricanes ... not so much.

“I’m not a big fan of those,” said Maurice of hockey’s more obscure statistics and references. “There haven’t been a whole lot of post-Christmas games that we’ve won, but we keep showing up for them.”

Even with that being said, Maurice couldn’t help but be impressed by that particular tidbit of information.

“That is an interesting stat, isn’t it,” he pondered. “When you really factor in the number of great teams [in Montreal’s history], it must have been one of the eight games they lost that year. Hopefully it keeps going.”

In aiming to keep that “curse” alive, the Hurricanes will have defenseman Niclas Wallin back in the lineup tonight in place of Jay Harrison, who will be a healthy scratch (Update: actually reassigned). Wallin has missed the last eight games with an upper-body injury.

Wallin’s return means that a previously injury-riddled Hurricanes defense is finally healing nicely, with Joe Corvo the only player still on the shelf. Brett Carson stays in the lineup after averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time with two assists and a plus-1 rating in eight games.

Ray Whitney will also play after being rested this morning.

“He’s had enough morning skates over the course of his career,” said coach Paul Maurice with a smile. “He doesn’t need this one.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the Canadiens’ offense is led by Tomas Plekanec, who recently became the first Montreal player to score 40 points before Christmas since three players did it in 1992.

Had he not been injured in Montreal’s first game of this season after being cut in the leg by goaltender Carey Price’s skate (sound familiar?), Andrei Markov would have had as good a shot of breaking that mark as anyone. In his return from that injury on December 19, Markov scored twice on the power play. He added an assist two nights later, showing little signs of rust.

There’s lots of lineup intrigue for Montreal today. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron is expected to play after crashing into the goalpost on his overtime-winning goal Monday night. Defensemen Roman Hamrlik and Paul Mara will not play due to injury, echoing the Hurricanes issues on defense over the last few weeks.

Forward Benoit Pouliot, the fourth overall draft choice of Minnesota in 2005 who has yet to pan out at the NHL level, will make his Montreal debut tonight on a line with Scott Gomez. He was acquired by Montreal in a November 28 trade that sent Guillaume Latendresse to the Wild. Brian Gionta was hopeful to play tonight, but has returned to Montreal.

The Canadiens have not yet named a starting goaltender and will not have a morning skate today. Backup Jaroslav Halak has won two games in a row, most recently stopping 47 shots against Atlanta on Monday.

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