The Montreal Canadiens who are 31-20-8 will look tonight to put a stop to their three-game losing skis and get their first win under new head coach Claude Julien. They’ll try to do that when they pay a visit to the New York Rangers who are 38-19-1. The Habs will be the definite road underdogs, though down they are never out.
Julien took over the reigns replacing Michel Therrien on Feb. 14, after the team slumped to a 2-6-1 record. But it hasn’t gotten any better, since Montreal has continued to lose with him on the bench, with a 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
The Canadiens had an amazing start to the year with a 13-1-1 record and those piints bacnked early helped them stay on top of the Atlantic Division despite recent struggles.
The race in the East is heating up, Ottawa is right behind Montreal by two points, and the Boston Bruins, who actually fired Julien on Feb. 7, are four points back of them in a competitive divisional race. Seven of the eight teams over the .500 mark are playing in tonight’s NHL action.
Strangely enough, today, the eighth-place team is the Detroit Red Wings, who have made the playoffs in 25 straight seasons and want to extend that record to 26. It won’t be easy since to keep pace with New York who is trending in the other direction, with seven of eight wins following a 2-1 victory against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals on Sunday night.
New York won the close game by a late goal scored by Mats Zuccarello at the 8:37 mark of the third period. Their goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves to give his team th ewin and pull within eight points of Washington for the Metropolitan crown, they are now only three points within second place.
Despite doing well though, the Rangers have struggled versus the Canadiens lately. Montreal won the only game between the teams on Jan. 14 at home 5-4 after a furious rally in the third period. Alexei Emelin, Max Pacioretty and Paul Byron all scored within a 62-second stretch in the third period to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-4 win.
This match up could be a first-round matchup preview of the Stanley Cup playoffs, as the slipping Montreal Canadiens will try to get their new coach a win.
“There should be a real sense of urgency on their part.” – Alain Vigneault
“I know Claude real well,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “His teams are going to be well-structured, he’s had a couple practices coming in and there should be a real sense of urgency on their part.”
The Rangers were just making it above .500 at the Garden in late January, but their five straight wins lifted their home record to 18-11-1, and that means it will be a tough barn to play in.
“The number of times he went back for pucks [in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Capitals] and was able to beat the forecheck, it makes such a huge difference,” Vigneault said of Brady Skjei. “Instead of playing 20 to 25 seconds defending, the puck’s out, we’re transitioning and going to the other end. Him and Mac [Ryan McDonagh] right now, both of them have that ability, or to skate away from the pressure. It makes it a lot easier on our game.”
Skjei, is contributing offensively with a goal and nine assists in his last 13 games, said to media after practice Monday: “I’m playing with a little more confidence. When I’m playing good, I hold on to the puck.”
The Canadiens are a miserly 2-7-1 in their last 10, and are in first place in the Atlantic Division. If the playoffs started today, Montreal would play the first wild card in the Eastern Conference, who are the Rangers.
A lot can change. New York has 77 points, and are just three out of second place in the Metropolitan Division. That could start changing tonight, if the Habs can get organized and steal a win in the Big Apple.