When the Caps and Habs faced off at the V.C. on December 27, Montreal was threatening to catch Buffalo atop the Northeast Division (though it was clear even then that superior special teams play was masking a mediocre hockey team's deficiencies). Since then, they've gone 8-16-1 and are in very serious danger of missing the playoffs - apparently the Caps aren't the only team that has gone in the crapper since Christmas. And like the Caps, Montreal's problems have been many, including a lack of scoring and a number of key injuries. Unlike the Caps, however, the Habs are caught in hockey's equivalent of no-man's land - not good enough to be contend, not bad enough to blow the whole thing up and rebuild (Should they trade Sheldon Souray now? Probably. Will they? No.) In short, the Habs are destined to be mediocre for the foreseeable future, and with a payroll of over $42 million, that shouldn't be acceptable for "the New York Yankees of hockey."
But enough schadenfreude - let's talk about the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the Habs are dealing with their share of injuries, including biggies to winger Alexei Kovalev and goalie Cristobal Huet. Spelling Huet, the latest saviour-in-net for Montreal is Slovak Jaroslav Halak, who was absolutely tearing up the AHL until his recall this past week. He looked very sharp against Columbus on Sunday in his NHL debut and likely earned another start against the Caps on Tuesday. If Halak doesn't get the nod for the Habs, the Caps will face David Aebischer.
Up front, the Canadiens don't scare anyone (especially with Kovalev on the shelf), as the Habs don't have a single forward with 18 goals (the Caps have four) or 50 points (the Caps have three). Their blueline, however, is a different story, as Souray's shot alone is as scary as a bald Britney Spears (and speaking of Souray, allow me to use this opportunity to remind you of some of his greatest hits and my promotional idea for Habs games). Couple Souray with Andrei Markov (who Alex Ovechkin has called the toughest defenseman in the League to play against) and throw in Mike Komisarek and Craig Rivet and you have the makings of a very solid D-corps.
The Habs, then, are a team with very good defensemen, a mediocre group of forwards, excellent special teams and a hot-shot rookie goalie. How will the Caps match-up? Tune in and find out. Oh, and bet the under.
- Hart: Mark Recchi (2G, 3A, -1, 3 SOG, 2 hits)
- Ross: Mark Recchi (5 points)
- Norris: Marc-Andre Bergeron (2A, +2, 2 SOG)
- Vezina: Tomas Vokoun (W, 22 saves on 23 shots against, A)
- Richard: Ryan Malone (3G)
- Calder: Phil Kessel (2A, +2, 2 SOG)
- Aiken: Marc-Andre Fleury (L, 6 goals allowed on 30 shots against)