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Gameday: Flyers travel to Montreal

Montreal Canadiens (16-9-5, 37 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (17-7-6, 40 pts)
Bell Centre - 7 PM EST - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Radio: 610 WIP, XM 205
Check Here for Internet Streams
Behind Enemy Lines: Habs Inside Out | Eyes On The Prize

What to Watch For: Back on the 15th of November, the Flyers won in Montreal and went on to win their next five games. Now, the Flyers are on another win streak, and a win tonight can push it to six games. The road teams have won each of the games in the season series so far, with the Flyers 2-1 win in Montreal in November, and the Habs 5-3 win in South Philly in October. Mike Richards has an eight game point streak.

The special teams are really where these teams are different, and although it can be said for practically every game, even more so tonight will the contest be decided at uneven strength. The Flyers have EIGHT power play goals in the last THREE games and rank second in the NHL with the man-advantage (although the numbers are significantly better on home ice, they're nothing to frown at on the road either). The Canadiens, on the other hand, are 28th on the power play, converting at just 12.9%, after being tops in the league last season.

Scouting the Enemy: The Habs are sliding. Losers of their last three, they haven't lost four straight in almost two years. Their leading scorer from last year, Alexei Kovalev, has just six goals this season, and still.. somehow, ranks second on the team with 23 points. There's a nice little picture of how the scoring woes are hurting Montreal this season. Saku Koivu, another one of their top scorers, is out of the lineup with a lower-body injury.

In fact, only one player is in double digits in goals, and that's Robert Lang with 10. Match that up with the Flyers who have six guys (Carter 22, Gagne 16, Richards & Knuble 13, Hartnell & Lupul 10) with double digit tallies in goals. The Habs leading scorer is a defenseman. Andrei Markov has 5 goals and 19 assists for 24 points.

It's not all bad in Montreal during their 100th anniversary season, though. They are still in the Eastern playoff picture, sitting in sixth place with 37 points (just three behind the Flyers). They are also in second place in the Northeast Division, although they need all the luck they can in catching red-hot Boston. Defenseman Mike Komisarek returns to the lineup for the Canadiens tonight after missing 16 games with shoulder trouble.

Between The Pipes: Antero Niittymaki is back in net again tonight after a quality performance against Colorado on Tuesday. Nitty has been awesome lately, a winner in his last five games. He hasn't lost since November 6, last time he played north of the border, in Ottawa. For the past five games, Nitty and Biron have alternated games. But with Marty still out with the flu, Nitty gets his second consecutive start. He's 6-1-2 on the year with a .912 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA.

Jaroslav Halak, the second-best goaltender taken in the 2003 draft, goes for the Habs tonight. Usual starter Carey Price has been out four games with a lower-body injury (thanks for the specificity). The Flyers beat Halak a month ago in Montreal by a score of 2-1. In the four game span Price has been out, Halak has a 2.27 GAA.

Questions to Answer: This idea has been taken from Hockey Wilderness, a Minnesota Wild blog, because it's just such a good idea. Hats off to them. I pose a few questions before the game, and then post game we take a look at the answers.

1. Will the top two lines keep it up? They've scored 17 of the Flyers last 18 goals. Can Mike Richards stretch his point streak to nine games?

2. Can the other forwards step up the production and take some work off the top guys?

3. Will the Montreal crowd, always known for being raucous, effect the game? Can the Flyers quiet it early?

4. Can Montreal break out of this slump and score some damn goals?

These questions will be answered following the game.

Injury Report: Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins, and Carey Price are all on the shelf tonight for Montreal.

Danny Briere has been added to the LTIR. He's skating, but a report by Tim Panaccio of CSN today says that Briere isn't rushing his comeback this time. THANK YOU, DANNY! Briere is with the team in Montreal, but he says that's just because his wife is sick of him around the house.

Randy Jones played with the Phantoms last night and John Stevens has been pretty tight-lipped about his possible return. He's on a conditioning assignment with the AHL club, and the rules say he can play up to three games on a conditioning stint. The Phantoms play Friday and Saturday night at home, which could potentially line Jones up for a return on Sunday in Newark against the Devils. Three games in three days might be a little tough for Jones though, who until last night hadn't seen game action since the ECF against Pittsburgh last season.

Stevens did give a slight insight on who will get the boot once Jones returns. Ripped from the Inquirer:

"Our defensemen are playing well, and that would include [Lasse] Kukkonen, who's kind of the odd man out right now," Stevens said after yesterday's optional practice in Voorhees.

It's pretty much always been between Luca Sbisa and Kukkonen on who goes when Jones returns, but I'll be honest, I always assumed it would be Sbisa. Interesting. We'll see what happens.

Hot Off The Presses: I've been pretty critical of John Stevens. When he was first appointed, I wanted to give him at least a season to put his mark on the team, and I did. I was mostly happy last season until that 10 game losing streak, and after that, I've been quick to criticize and even call for his firing, as I did on my radio show toward the beginning of the season. I loved him as Phantoms coach, and I've long believed that his best work can be done molding young players into NHLers.

I'm not all that stubborn with most of my opinions though, and a story written today by Anthony SanFilippo of the Delco Times may have changed my mind about Stevens a little. Of course it's easy to say these things when the team is winning, but read the article. It's not bad. An excerpt:

At several times between where he was then and where he is now, Stevens’ name has been bandied about as a coach who needed to be removed from his position.

It happened in 2006-07 when he couldn’t revive the team after Ken Hitchcock was fired, watching them lose 20 of 24 games. It happened when his team tanked from one of the best records in hockey through a 10-game losing streak, nearly missing the playoffs a season ago.

It happened again at the start of this season, when Stevens and his Flyers got off to a horrible 0-3-3 start.

Each time, while unsubstantiated rumors swirled, Stevens hunkered down and found a way to correct what was wrong with the team.

Should be a good game tonight, as it always is in Montreal. No "ole" chants, please.

Let's Go Flyers!

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