Familiar faces return as Habs host Stars

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The Habs look to avoid a let down tonight, as they take the ice for the first time in 5 days to take on the Dallas Stars for the first and only time of the season.

The last time the Canadiens played the stars, Guy Carbonneau ended up fired. With Habs coach Jacques Martin on the first year of a seven-figure contract, it's an event unlikely to be repeated.

Moreover, the last time the Stars were at the Bell Centre, in 2006, Mike Ribeiro scored 2 goals - for the Canadiens. Not only has Ribeiro since been traded to the Stars, but he'll sit out his long anticipated return to Montreal thanks to a scary throat injury, ironically delivered by his former teammate, Chris Higgins.

Ribeiro has really found his niche iin Dallas, becoming an important player in the Stars' line up, amongst the Richards, Morrows, Erikssons and Neals. And even though he was on pace for an ok 60 point season, Ribeiro is a far cry from the man-child of a player that disgraced a lot of Habs fans, not to mention the Canadiens organization, with both his on and off-ice antics. Capping his turn around with an 83 point season two years ago, and a 78 point season last year, the 29 year old still has many good years ahead of him, but he certainly isn't happy with missing tonight's game.

So while the storyline for tonight's game was shaping up to revolve around Ribeiro, it shifts, with his injury, to another Habs alumni, Stephane Robidas. Robidas left the Canadiens after only two full seasons as a Canadien in 2002, when the Habs chose not to protect him in that year's waiver draft. Picked up by the Thrashers, he was immediately traded to Dallas for a 6th round pick. He had a good first year as a defensive defenseman with the Stars, turning a -25 from the prior year into a +15. The next year he was traded once again, to Chicago. After playing in the German league during the lockout, he returned to Dallas as a UFA, consistently improving his game as both an offensive and defensive defenseman.

Now, 32 years old and flourishing in his role as basically the number one defenseman with the Stars, Robidas has already surpassed his prior career highs almost all across the board. He has 10 goals, 7 of which are on the powerplay (the most amongst defensemen in the league), and 18 assists for a total of 28 points. If he keeps this up, he'll nearly double his prior career high of 26 points, and he'll be making an excellent case for a Norris nomination. He thinks he should have made Team Canada, and there are people (mostly in the French Media) that agree with him.

Nevertheless, he's a competitor and he will definitely be looking to be a gamebreaker tonight.

MUCH NEEDED REST OR LOSS OF MOMENTUM?

The last time the Canadiens took the ice was last Saturday night, in a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. The Habs played a really good game and kept it close against what has to be a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Win or lose, they took momentum out of that game. Unfortunately, they haven't played since, taking 2 days completely off and only practicing since Tuesday. While some players, such as Mara and Spacek, certainly benefited from the rest, one has to wonder whether some of the younger players might find their legs a little heavier going into tonight's game.

On the other side of the ice, the Stars have played 4 of their last 6 games on the road, most of which were in the Eastern Conference, and have lost all of them. In fact, they have lost their last 8 games on the road, and are definitely more of a home team. Whether this is good or bad for the Canadiens is uncertain. The Habs aren't exactly the best home team, and the Stars are well aware of their 8-game road losing streak.

I'd expect a high scoring, near-barnburner type of game. The Canadiens simply need to score more goals, and the Stars simply need to win. Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec don't have any goals in the New Year (interestingly enough since Andrei Kostitsyn played his last game), and simply need to get back on pace tonight. The Gomez-Gionta-Pouliot like will have something to say about though, as they seem to have been carrying the offense as of late.

No word on the starting goaltender yet, but it would be fooling to switch back to Price right now, so Halak should get the start.

Andrei Kostitsyn, of course, misses the game due to knee surgery. Sergei Kostitsyn has been skating on his own but won't be playing tonight, as he is out with an ankle injury. No call-ups have been made, so expet Georges Laraque to be back in the line-up after more upper body (*COUGH*BACK*COUGH*) woes. Ryan O'Byrne is back after attending to personal matters over the last few games, but might end up a healthy scratch.

EDIT: In a very odd move, Martin is going with Price between the pipes tonight. Even I don't get this move.

STATS

*Note: Injured players are ommitted from stat leaders.

-- HABS STARS
Goals: Cammalleri (20) Neal (19)
Assists: Plekanec (36) Richards (39)
Points: Plekanec (46) Richards (52)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+11) Fistric (+11)
Time on Ice: Hamrlik (24:04 per game) Robidas (24:04 per game)
PIMs: Lapierre (46) Barch (71)
Shots: Cammalleri(157) Richards (152)
SVP: Halak (.927) Turco (.907)
GAA: Halak (2.46) Turco (2.77)
Record: Halak (12-6-1 20GP) Turco (14-12-8 34GP)
Injuries: Andrei Kostitsyn (lower body, 6 weeks)
Sergei Kostitsyn (lower body, DTD)
Barch (Flu, DTD)
Grossman (Lower Body, IR)
Ribeiro (Tracheotomy, 6 weeks)
Last 10: 6-3-1, lost 1 4-6-0, lost 2
Standings: 22-21-3, T8th, 48PTS, 47GP 19-16-11, T11th, 49PTS, 46GP
GF/GA per game: 2.45GF, 30th/ 2.64GA, 11th 2.80GF, 11th/ 3.04GA, 24th
PP/PK %: 24.6%, 1st / 84.6%, 7th 18.4%, 15th / 77.6%, 26th

WHAT THE STATS SAY:

As I said earlier, THE HABS NEED TO SCORE GOALS. They've fallen to DEAD LAST in goals-for per game, and it's simply unnacceptable. Part of it has to do with the fact that they don't get many powerplays (they certainly capitalize on those, as their powerplay continues to be 1st), but there's simply no excuse anymore. The scoring leaders for the Canadiens haven't changed a single point in 2010. With middle-of-the-pack or worse special teams on the Stars, the Canadiens need to capitalize tonight and score a lot of goals. They're going to get the goaltending, now it's up to the scorers.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON READING:

- RDS Game story.

- Steve Kerley on the stars.

Will try to post more links later.

FINAL PREDICTION: Habs 6 - Stars 5

Time to score some goals. More specifically, time for Cammy and Pleks to score some goals.

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
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