GAME: Montreal Canadiens (24-16-6-2) at New Jersey Devils (23-12-10-1).
TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Improved special teams and a return to MVP form by Jose Theodore has the
Montreal Canadiens playing their best hockey of the season.
Theodore and the Canadiens try to extend their unbeaten streak to a
season-high six when they visit the New Jersey Devils.
Montreal hovered around .500 the first two months of this season before a
2-1 victory at Atlanta on Dec. 29 began a 4-0-1 streak.
That stretch ended Jan. 8 with a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay, but the Canadiens
have responded with another 4-0-1 run to put seven points between themselves
and the eighth-place New York Islanders.
Theodore, who struggled last season after earning the Hart and Vezina
Trophies in 2001-02, has been at his best the past month. He is 7-1-2 in his
last 10 starts while allowing just 13 goals.
Also contributing to Montreal's rise in the standings is a power play that
has scored 28 goals in 29 games since Nov. 20 for a success rate of 26.1
percent. The penalty killing has also been very good, recording a 90.6 success
rate since Nov. 20.
"We've had improvement on both sides, but I'm proudest of the penalty
killing, because we were 28th or 29th in the league and we worked our way back
to 14th," Montreal assistant coach Guy Charron said.
Richard Zednik scored a pair of power-play goals and Theodore turned aside
22 shots Tuesday, leading the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory at Philadelphia.
"I think I am playing the same way. It just seems lately that we are
playing better as a team," Theodore said. "I think we played one of our best
games all season."
Left wing Mike Ribeiro has been the offensive catalyst for Montreal. He has
three goals and eight assists during a five-game point streak.
New Jersey's struggles on home ice continued Wednesday with a 2-1 loss to
Jeff Friesen scored in the second period for the Devils, losers of four of
five at Continental Airlines Arena.
After sitting out the past two games, Martin Brodeur's personal winless
streak reached three (0-2-1). He has won just twice in 12 appearances (2-7-3)
since Dec. 21.
"I don't think it's just Marty, that's for sure," Devils center John
Madden said. "It's definitely a team thing. I don't know why he hasn't been on
a roll lately."