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Struggling Habs head to Phoenix

by Tal Pinchevsky
CANADIENS (5-7-2) at COYOTES (7-4-2)

: RDS (HD), FS-A

Last 10: Montreal 4-5-1; Phoenix 6-3-1.

Season Series: This is the first and only game between these teams. They last played more than a year ago at the Bell Centre in Montreal. On Oct. 25, 2010, Andrei Kostitsyn scored the overtime winner as the Canadiens topped Phoenix, 3-2.

Big Story: The Canadiens have been a team prone to runs, losing two straight following a four-game win streak that calmed the nerves of their hockey-mad home. Meanwhile, the Coyotes have quietly and efficiently put together a run that has helped them keep pace in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: A recent four-game win streak following the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn helped the Canadiens get back to the .500 mark, at least temporarily halting the calls for coach Jacques Martin's job. But consecutive closely-contested losses have undone some of that momentum.

Following a hard-fought 5-3 loss in New York against the Rangers, Montreal hosted a hot Oilers team on Tuesday. That evening, Tom Gilbert's goal with 3:32 remaining in the third period gave Edmonton a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead. But Max Pacioretty scored just 22 seconds later, giving the Canadiens new life. Despite outshooting the Oilers 12-4 in the third and 29-14 overall, Ryan Smyth put the game away with an empty-netter to hand Edmonton a 3-1 win.

"You're disappointed with the score but it wasn't because of a lack of effort or lack of execution," Martin said. "We just didn't finish. We'll look at the tape and find a couple of errors that we need to be better and regroup for Thursday's game."

Coyotes: Winners of four of their last five, Phoenix has ridden some hot goaltending and timely scoring to a strong start. The Coyotes split the first two games of a three-game homestand that they'll finish against Montreal before embarking on a season-long five-game road swing. After being shut out 3-0 by the Predators on Thursday, the Coyotes hosted the upstart Oilers on Saturday.

That night, Daymond Langkow and Adrian Aucoin opened the scoring in the second period and Mike Smith made 24 saves to hold the fort and preserve a  4-2 win. The Oilers cut the Phoenix lead to 2-1 and 3-2 in the third period before Ray Whitney sealed the deal with an empty-net goal. Whitney, Boyd Gordon, and Radim Vrbata paced the Phoenix attack with two points each.

"It was a very entertaining hockey game the first couple of periods. There were some chances both ways," said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. "(In the) third period our execution wasn't very good ... but, I liked the way our guys hung in there and we got two big points."

Who's Hot: With 8 points in his last six contests, Tomas Plekanec has been the spark behind the Canadiens' offense, while Pacioretty now has goals in consecutive games. … For the Coyotes, Vrbata has been on fire with 9 points in his last five games and the 39-year-old Whitney has defied the aging process with 9 points in his last seven games.

Injury Report: For the Canadiens, Andrei Markov (knee), Ryan White (hernia surgery), and Chris Campoli (leg) are all on IR, while Scott Gomez (upper body) and Andrei Kostitsyn (lower body) are questionable for Thursday night. … Defensemen Kurt Sauer (concussion symptoms) and Michael Rozsival (head) are on IR for the Coyotes.

Stat Pack: The veteran Whitney has been a revelation in his second season in Phoenix. Entering his 21st NHL season, Whitney leads the team with 14 points and is on pace for 88 points, which would easily surpass his career high of 83, which he had with the Hurricanes in the 2006-07 season. Not bad for someone who made his NHL debut during the 1991-92 season.

Puck Drop: These teams don't face each other often, but it's still been over a decade since the Coyotes beat the Canadiens. They last topped les Habitants on Sept. 12, 1998, a game in which Jimmy Waite made 19 saves to earn a 4-2 win. Montreal has gone 10-0-2-0 against the Coyotes in that span.
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