CANADIENS (22-13-3) vs. LIGHTNING (22-11-3)
In the first stop of their annual holiday tour of the Sunshine State, the Canadiens take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Seven days prior to taking on Tampa Bay, the Habs had a roller coaster ride of a game against the Nashville Predators. A three-goal outburst in the first period by Montreal chased Preds starter Marek Mazanec, who was replaced by Carter Hutton. It was the second game in a row where coach Barry Trotz had to reassign his starting netminder to the bench after a poor start. Despite the strong first period, the Habs could not build on the lead, getting outshot 20 to 6 in the second frame. By the middle of the third, the score was tied three-all, Subban, Pacioretty and Plekanec having scored for the visiting team, and Gabriel Bourque, Nick Spaling and Shea Weber replying for the home squad. In overtime, David Desharnais finally closed the game out for the Habs with an outstanding individual effort, picking the pocket of a Nashville defender before sending a slapshot between the shoulder of Hutton and the crossbar. Carey Price made 31 saves on 34 shots in the 4-3 win, his 17th of the year.
In their final pre-Christmas game, the Lightnings handled their cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, by a score of 6-1. Martin St. Louis had a goal and two assists, while Mike Smith made 28 saves on 29 shots to help the team to its fifth consecutive win.
With goal-scorer extraordinaire Steven Stamkos out with a broken tibia, St. Louis and Valtteri Filppula have picked up the slack offensively for coach Jon Cooper’s team. Youngsters Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson have also acquitted themselves well in bigger roles, posting 21 and 16 points respectively in the past twenty games without Stamkos.
The Tampa Bay medical team has had its hands full. Keith Aulie, Brian Lee, Ryan Malone, Mattias Ohlund and Stamkos are all on injured reserve. Malone is close to a return to action, while the status of Eric Brewer, who suffered a knee injury on December 22, is unclear.
As for the Canadiens, George Parros is out with a concussion, while Josh Gorges is expected to be in the lineup after missing a game due to a lower-body injury. Carey Price will start in net for Montreal.
Saturday’s game will be the second of four matchups between Montreal and Tampa Bay in 2013-14. On November 12, 2013, the Lightning came away with a 2-1 shootout win at the Bell Centre, Valtteri Filppula being the lone successful shooter. The two teams’ last four games in Tampa were all decided by a lone goal. The Habs have won in their last two visits to Tampa, mostly recently in March of this year.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST.
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