The Montreal Canadiens begin a crucial two-game homestand this week, hosting both New York teams in a three-day span. The Habs will face the upstart New York Islanders before playing the New York Rangers for the second time in a week. As the Canadiens try to keep pace with the Boston Bruins, they must have a good showing on home ice.
The Bell Centre is one of the most intimidating places to play in all of hockey. An enthusiastic home crowd lends a strong home ice advantage that the Habs are never hesitant to take advantage of. As they try to establish themselves as contenders in the East again, the next two games at home will be crucial.
The Islanders are a young team, but they’ve surprised this season. They lack depth, but their top line can be one of the best in hockey. Taking away John Tavares will be key for Montreal if they are going to beat an inferior Islanders team.
The Rangers will prove to be a more difficult challenge. Playing New York for the second time in a week, the Habs know what they are getting into. They will try to grind away at the Canadiens, taking advantage of a perceived advantage in physicality. Two of the best goaltenders in hockey will likely go head to head for the second time in a week when Carey Price, finally over the flu, faces off with Henrik Lundqvist again.
If the Canadiens can defeat both the Islanders and Rangers this week, they’ll be in great position as February draws to a close. It will require sound defensive play, which hasn’t been a problem for the Habs so far this season. The top-heavy Islanders should have problems with the Canadiens defense, but Montreal is in for another grind with the Rangers later this week in an Original Six rivalry.