Day of Doom looms for Habs as they prepare to face Canes

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First of all, I'd like to wish my readers a Merry Christmas. I may post a holiday blog tomorrow, but if not, you guys have made these few months TCL has been open fun for blogging and participating in some good thread discussions, and I hope we can make it even better in 2010.

A new site design is looming, and we're constantly on the lookout for new bloggers and adding new features, so we hope we can help a lot of you kill some more time in 2010!

But before we get to 2010, the Canadiens still have 5 more games on the road to close out the year. It starts tonight in Carolina, against a team that has seemed to have the Canadiens number over the years, whether they were good or bad.

At the moment, they seem to be at their worst. They are by far the worst team in the league in terms of points, sitting dead last with 24 points in 36 games, a 9-21-6 record­. They haven't even won 10 games yet! For those keeping count, that's a ridiculously bad 25% win percentage! They're been scored on 42 times more than they've scored themselves (the worst team in the league in both GA and GF per game, and by a lot), and while their PK and PP aren't dead last, they aren't much better.

Things aren't looking very good for the team that made the conference finals in last year's playoffs, and the team that won the cup but a few years ago, and it's hard to say why exactly. Sure, the team is getting a little older, but guys like Ward, Cole, Staal, and even Ruutu and Whitney shouldn't be any worse than they've ever been, and they have some good young players such as Brandon Sutter, and an overall hard working, hard-nosed team (Rod Brind'Amour still have literally the hardest nose in the league) that really shouldn't be this bad.

One could say the odds of this team beating the Canadiens tonight are slim to none, with the Habs coming off 2 wins stolen by a hot goaltender, and a group of skaters that knows how to score goals.

But the Canes have one thing on their side tonight, and that's history.

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DAY OF DOOM

There are many ghosts that haunt the Canadiens, and there are many records this organization is proud to hold. But the one record that stands out amongst all these accomplishments, the one ghost that haunts the Canadiens that seems to stand out amongst the rest... amongst all the jerseys retired, all the players in the hall of fame, all the stanley cup banners and all the old forum ghosts... there is one fact that stands out.

The Montreal Canadiens have not won a game on December 23rd since 1945.

Since the Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins on December 23rd, 1945, the Habs have played 19 games, all on the road. 11 of them were losses, and in 8 games they managed ties. At home, they were a little better, winning in 1970, but since the eighties they usually play most of their holiday games on the road, thanks to the Cirque du Soleil.

And while Marc-André Bergeron will tell you that ''we're due'', and Mike Cammalleri will tell you that he isn't supersticious, this really isn't a record you can brush off to the side. It's the Canes best chance at winning, and something that will probably make a lot of Habs fan cringe.

Nevertheless, Glen Metropolit is right when he says that "You can't be thinking about those things" going into a must-win game. Scary holiday records aside, the odds are in the Canadiens favor tonight.

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THREE QUESTIONS

Some questions for tonight's game:

1. Who do you start tonight? Halak or Price?
Halak is the main reason behind the Canadiens success on this road trip, but he's faced 90 shots in 2 games and is probably dead-tired. Also, you can't let Price get cold at this point. Another solid performance might add to Halak's trade value, but if he faulters due to exhaustion, that doesn't help anyone.

2. How will Benoit Pouliot fare in his first game as a Hab?
We've been waiting over a month for Pouliot's first game. I'm sure he understands the stakes and the opportunity to make a good first impression on the coach and the fans, and to show Bob Gainey that he was right in trading for him. If I were Pouliot I would be excited and anxious to play.

3. How will Scott Gomez play next to Pouliot?
Lots of heat on Gomez right now, who hasn't been playing well at all since Gionta was injured. He's the latest center with a revolving door of wingers, after Plekanec's linemates were stabilized about a month ago, but that's no excuse for a player who makes the most money on the team. Still, tonight he gets a young forward looking to make an impact on his line. Will Gomez finally pull out of his funk?

Some interesting storylines going into tonight's game...

Paul Mara and Brian Gionta were sent home early the other day. Mara took a shot off his wrist on Monday and while he will be examined today, apparently it doesn't look good. Gionta suffered a setback in his recovery from his broken foot, and won't be able to skate until the weekend. Roman Hamrlik won't play tonight either, which pushes Bergeron back to defense, who's good to go after a scare monday when his back hit the post after scoring the overtime winner. He'll obviously be good to go.

No word on the starting goalie as implied above, and the morning skate was cancelled, so that info will be available later in the day.

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STATS

*Note: Injured players are ommitted from stat leaders.

-- HABS CANES
Goals: Cammalleri (18) Whitney/Ruutu(10)
Assists: Plekanec (33) Pitkanen(15)
Points: Plekanec (40) Whitney(24)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+11) Kostopoulos (EVEN)
Time on Ice: Spacek (22:46 per game) Pitkanen (26:18 per game)
PIMs: Mara (44) Boulton (51)
Shots: Cammalleri(126) Staal(113)
SVP: Halak (.916) Legace (.899)
GAA: Halak (2.69) Ward(3.07)
Record: Halak (8-5-1 14GP) Legace (4-5-2 12GP)
Injuries: Gionta (foot, day-to-day)
Hamrlik (knee, day-to-day)
Mara (wrist, day-to-day
Borer (neck, done)
Ryan (concussion, IR)
Corvo (leg surgery, 2 months)
Larose (lower body, January)
Cole (upper body, 2-3 weeks)
Wallin (upper body, day-to-day)tr>
Last 10: 5-4-1, won 2 4-5-1, lost 1
Standings: 17-18-3, T9th, 37 points 9-21-6, dead last, 24 points
GF/GA per game: 2.45GF, 27th/ 2.76GA, 13th 2.39GF, 30th / 3.56GA, 30th
PP/PK %: 23.0%, 2nd(!) / 84.0%, 7th 15.1%, 29th / 79.2%, 22nd

WHAT THE STATS SAY:

The Habs have come a long way in their special teams. The fact they're second in the league with their PP is remarkable, not to mention their 7th ranked PK. Almost as remarkable is how bad the Canes are all across the board, as we've mentioned. Tonight will be all about special teams once again.

Final prediction: Habs 5 - Canes 1
The curse has to be broken sometime, and no better time than tonight.

Enjoy the game and Happy Holidays!

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

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