The Habs are coming off a busy week that saw them pickup 6 points over four games in only six days. Most notably, was the back to back Friday / Saturday games that no doubt tired the team, and was a partial reason for their loss against the Panthers.
But despite being back to a three game week, the coming five days will be as challenging as ever. Once again, the Canadiens face back to back games, which will most likely see Alex Auld take to the net for his second campaign. We should also see a bit more consistency building on the Power Play, as Andrei Markov will certainly see more ice time. Despite all the chatter that Jaro Spacek will sit out tonight's match against Columbus, the reality is that he WILL be on the ice in his usual slot. It would seem that Coach Martin is giving his veteran defenseman another opportunity to prove himself after they spoke at length about Spacek's lack of consistency.
So how should the team fair against the talent that will be thrown at them this week?
Tonight is one of those rare occasions. The Habs make their second start against a Western Conference team when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets. This being their only meeting of the year. The last time these two teams faced off was November 24th, 2009 in Montreal, and it ended in a Habs victory (5-3). On paper, both of these teams look quite similar, with the one glaring exception being the PP. However, Montreal has struggled potting goals in the past two games, and will certainly be challenged this evening when they face Mathieu Garon between the pipes. Although he's only started 2 games this year, he's been the winner in both, and posted a fantastic 1.61 GAA and a .938 SV%. With numbers like that - the Habs offense is going to have to get far more proactive in front of the net, and rattle Garon's cage early.
The mini road trip continues Friday night as the Habs roll into Buffalo to face the Sabres. Once again, the oppositions record (3-7-2) doesn't paint the clear picture about the team. Consider that they have 6 players with 7+ points on the season, and a total of 30 goals scored, the Sabres are a group that has plenty of depth across their lineup. Shutting down Derek Roy will have to be a priority. And goaltender Ryan Miller, who's considered to be one of the best in the league, will also be anxious to add another to the win column. It would appear to be either teams opportunity when they step to the ice.
The week comes to a close as Bell center fans welcome home their team, as they face the Ottawa Senators for the third time this season. Montreal has owned the Sens so far with 4-3 and 3-0 victories, but that will only fuel the fire for some Ottawa revenge. Clearly the Senators have struggled getting their share of goals as well, and Alex Kovalev always has something to prove whenever he returns to his old teams barn. But Brian Elliot hasn't posted great numbers as the starting goaltender for Ottawa, and the Habs have definitely capitolized on that in both previous outings.
This is a tough week to call. All three games seem like they could go either way, and to be honest, I'd be happy if we are 4 points richer by weeks end. Reality states that in order to do that, Price will have to rebound with a strong start tonight, and ride a win into Buffalo. And the power play has got to start clicking. Besides that, the same old song needs to be sung: Take shots, and get players to the blue ice at every opportunity possible.
By the time it's all over and done, we should still be sitting atop the North Eastern division, which will also secure a top3 slot in the Conference.
Not bad for a team that everyone called "lucky" in last years playoffs.