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Islanders return home to face Canadiens

by Matthew Mankiewich

CANADIENS (19-11-3) at ISLANDERS (9-19-5)


Last 10: Montreal 7-2-1; New York 1-7-2

Season series: The Montreal Canadiens won the first game at Bell Centre 4-2 on Nov. 12. This is their only visit of the season to the Nassau Coliseum.

Big story: The New York Islanders offered some hope they would right themselves with a with a 3-2 road shootout win against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, ending a 10-game losing streak. But their defense fell apart two nights later in the desert, when they were beaten 6-3 by the Phoenix Coyotes, leaving New York with one victory in its past 12 games.

Though not as prolonged as the Islanders' slump, the Canadiens are far from satisfied with their performance this week. They saw a five-game winning streak ended by a 6-0 drubbing by the Los Angeles Kings at home on Tuesday, then turned in another lackluster showing two days later in a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Montreal entered the week 9-0-1 in its previous 10 games, but after two poor efforts, coach Michel Therrien picked up the intensity at practice Friday, moving lines around and giving his team a wake-up call.

"Still disappointed, it's not going to change," Therrien said. "We need a constant effort every time we're there because right now it's a roller coaster. We need to be a team that plays our game from start to finish, very simple."

Defenseman P.K. Subban said, "I think that we went through a stretch of games where we played some very good hockey and I felt we had that fire, that passion, that edge to our game. When you look at us now, I think sometimes just being at the rink a lot can take away your fire and your passion. I think it's more of us managing it and understanding that listen, if we're going to be an elite team, we're going to go through times when things are going well and you still have to find a way as a player to still have that compete level every night."

Islanders: The shootout win at San Jose, one of the toughest home teams in the NHL, is an achievement any team can be proud of. But the clunker in Arizona sent the Islanders home with a 1-4-0 record on their Western trip and made for a long flight back to Long Island.

But help may be on the way. Ryan Strome, the fifth player taken in the 2011 NHL Draft, is expected to make his NHL debut. Strome was a dominant scorer in junior hockey and was leading the American Hockey League in scoring before being called up this week. Also likely to return is starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who hasn't played since going down with a groin injury on Nov. 16. He was activated off injured reserve and backed up Kevin Poulin on Thursday.

Coach Jack Capuano indicated in his postgame remarks after the loss to the Coyotes that both would be in the lineup Saturday. More important will be an improved defensive effort after the Islanders allowed more than four goals for the 10th time this season.

"We couldn't execute anything out of our own end, we were holding the puck too long, we lost positioning battles," Capuano told Newsday. "A lot of that isn't structural, it's just winning your shift. We didn't do that."

Who's hot: The Canadiens' power play ranks sixth in the NHL at 21.7 percent and their penalty kill is fifth at 86.1 percent. … Islanders captainJohn Tavares extended his point streak to three games with a goal Thursday, as did forward Thomas Vanek with an assist. Tavares has a point on eight of the Islanders' past 12 goals. Forward Kyle Okposo scored in a second straight game. Eric Boulton's game-opening goal Thursday was the first by an Islanders forward at even strength other than Vanek, Tavares or Okposo since Boulton's previous goal Nov. 23. New York scored three goals in regulation Thursday for the first time in 10 games.

Injury report: Canadiens forward Rene Bourque (upper body) has been out since Dec. 2. … Islanders forwardCasey Cizikas (jaw) was injured Thursday and is questionable. DefensemenRadek Martinek (back spasms) and Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) are on injured reserve.

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