Season Series: This is the third of four meetings between the clubs this season. The Canadiens won the first two, both at Bell Centre in late October. They skated to a 5-1 victory on Oct. 22 and four nights later won in overtime, 3-2, on Roman Hamrlik's goal. Jaroslav Halak won both games and Martin Biron took the loss in each. Montreal got eight goals from eight different sources.
Big Story: Both of these teams appear to be stuck in the mud right now, going nowhere fast. Here is a chance on Hockey Night in Canada for one of them to start building toward something. It's also probably going to be another chance for Biron to beat the team he grew up watching. The Lac St. Charles, QC, native has historically been good against the Habs. He's 13-9-1 with two shutouts.
Canadiens: Thursday's 3-1 loss to Minnesota at Bell Centre was Montreal's fifth straight defeat, which isn't exactly the kind of streak a team wants to be on as it embarks on a seven-game road trip. The Canadiens won't play at home again until Jan. 3.
Some good news could be on the way as both Brian Gionta (foot) and Andrei Markov (ankle) will reportedly make the trip for Saturday's game, though there was no word yet on if they will play. Hamrlik also missed Thursday's game with a right knee injury that could keep him out Saturday night as well. Paul Mara made a surprising return to the lineup Thursday after missing five games and played more than 21 minutes.
The Habs have scored only 10 goals during this five-game slide and one in each of their last two games. They also play at Atlanta, Carolina, Toronto, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida before finally returning home.
Islanders: Despite losing 5-2 at home to the Rangers on Thursday, coach Scott Gordon was pleased with the effort and lauded Blueshirts goalie Henrik Lundqvist, saying he was the difference.
"Put another goalie in the net and we might have won the game 6-5," Gordon said.
It was the second half of a back-to-back with their rivals and the Islanders managed to split because they outplayed, outhustled and outworked the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Wednesday's 2-1 win.
As you would expect from a young team, the results are mixed. The Islanders have been outscored, 12-3, in their last two home games. Counting Saturday, they play six of their next eight games at Nassau Coliseum, so the getting-blown-out-in-their-own-building trend is something they would like to curb. Leading scorers John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo have also gone cold, with only one assist between them over the last three games.
Who's Hot: For the Canadiens, Andrei Kostitsyn has seven goals and two assists over the last seven games. For the Islanders, Frans Nielsen had a goal and an assist in Thursday's loss and Blake Comeau has points in the last two games and three of the last four.
Injury Report: For the Habs, Hamrlik is up in the air as are Gionta and Markov, who are both on IR. The Isles are still without Doug Weight (upper body), Tim Jackman (hip) and Sean Bergenheim (ribs).
Stat Pack: The Canadiens outshot the Wild, 31-21, Thursday night, marking the first time in 10 games they outshot their opponent and the first time since Nov. 17 that they had 30 or more shots on goal. … Biron hasn't won a game since Nov. 13 at Carolina. … Habs forward Mike Cammalleri played in his 400th NHL game Thursday night.
Puck Drop: "It's a process to get out of a streak and to me there were some encouraging signs (Thursday)," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "It was almost like early in the year when I think we lost our first two home games, but I felt that we were playing better. I thought our intensity was better (Thursday). We still have a couple of areas we need to improve, but I thought we did much better. We had better discipline with only one penalty. That's positive after the last couple of weeks."