Game 10 preview: Rangers roll into town, why mess with a winning line-up?

The Habs six game homestand reaches 5 games as they welcome Chris Higgins and the surprising New York Rangers at the Bell Centre, tonight at 7PM!

These teams have been seemingly moving in totally opposite directions this season, from October 1st, all the way throughout tonight's tilt. The rangers have played ten games and and started the season with a more than impressive 7 and 1 record. They sit pretty in 4th place in the East, and while the season is still young, the way they have been playing through the first month of the season, many wouldn't shy away from penciling them into their updated playoff predictions for next spring. They have, however, lost their last two games and will be looking to rebound against the Canadiens tonight.

As for the Habs, to say that they've been the doppleganger of the Rangers in October, at least on paper, might be an understatement. They started the season with two tight victories against the Leafs and Sabres, as we have documented, but then, due to injuries and a little bit of bad luck, went on a five game losing streak that lasted until the Canadiens edged the Atlanta Thrashers Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. They rocked the New York Islanders on Thursday night, putting them on a two game win streak going into tonight's game, and putting them in 11th spot in the east with a 4 and 5 record.

The Rangers have certainly been impressive in their 7 wins. With victories over the Senators, the Capitals, the Ducks, the Kings, the Devils and twice over the Leafs (and losses to the Devils, Sharks and Pens), they find themselves in a fairly new position when it comes to their goalscorer, as is indicative by the following stats since the end of the lockout:

SEASON G/G POS | GA/G POS
- 2009-10 3.70 3rd | 2.60 5th (through 10 games)
- 2008-09 2.44 28th | 2.58 6th (7th place finish)
- 2007-08 2.50 25th | 2.32 4th (5th place finish)
- 2006-07 2.84 18th | 2.57 9th (6th place finish)
- 2005-06 3.05 14th | 2.57 4th 6th place finish)

As you can see, the Rangers have consistently been a top ten team defensively, mostly under Tom Renney, but they never managed to score that many goals. Tom Renney is out as head coach since late last season, and John Tortorella is in.

Torts is infamous around the league. He's a winner, and he'll do anything he needs to do in order to win. No player under his coaching regime is safe, and he's not afraid to bench the players who aren't performing or curse them out at practice, and he's not afraid to ride his superstars and top performers for all their worth. This is a changed team, and while they'd added some players, subtracted others, and increased the roles of some of the remaining players, it all leads back to Torts, and the goals for stats speak for themselves.

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WHICH RANGERS TO LOOK OUT FOR

- Marian Gaborik: The oft-injured Gaborik has started the season healthy, playing all ten games for the rangers and leading the team with 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists, +5). He has a team high 43 shots and an average time on ice of 21:47, a high among forwards. He and his line will definitely be the players to watch tonight. Gaborik suits up along with Vaclav Prospal (2nd in team points with 3 goals and 9 assists) and Enver Lisin), and Jacques Martin will most likely try to match the Metropolit line against them.

- Sean Avery: Avery is a pest in any city he visits, and the bright lights of Montreal certainly aren't an exception. Put him on a line with Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik, where he'll be playing tonight, and he not only becomes a pest, but also an offensive threat. Kotalik is 3rd on the team in points with 10, and while Drury and Avery only have 5 points each, Avery's done it in 6 games.

- Chris Higgins: The former Hab makes his return to Montreal tonight on a line with underrated forward Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky is 5th in scoring on the rangers with 8 points and Callahan has 5 points, but Higgins only has 2 assists in 10 games, and Torts will be looking to get him going after chewing him out publicly at the start of the season, and they'll be hoping he can get it done against his former team. Maybe Higgins thinks he's still a Hab?

- The entire New York defense: Not many people had good things to say about the collection of defensemen in New York. Wade Redden was a big weight on both the cap and the defense, and so was Roszival. Neither have been game breakers so far this year, but they've been better and haven't attracted too much negative attention. More importantly, however, is the infusion of young talent in the Rangers defense corps. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are beasts as a shutdown duo, as they haven been for a few years now, and rookies Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto (who leads all rookies, forwards or defensemen, in scoring!) make this group of six scary good. The Canadiens are going to have their hands full with this group.

Lunqvist will obviously be in nets, and the only player of note who might not suit up tonight is Donald Brashear, who missed yesterday's practice with "General soreness", but with Georges Laraque riding pine tonight, it won't make a difference. We'll have to wait to see these two heavyweight champions fight again. Thanks to Rotoworld.com for the Rangers line-up notes.

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HABS NEWS AND NOTES

Not much to report on this end, the exact same line-up we saw on Thursday night against the Islanders will be suiting up tonight, including Jaroslav Halak between the pipes for a 3rd straight game. There's no reason to mess with a winning line-up, so this is the right move by Jacques Martin. The "Little 3" are playing amazing hockey, Tomas Plekanec is playing great despite not really having great line-mates, Metropolit is playing as well as he could be with 4 points in two games and one period, and the 4th line is contributing.

Good to see Maxim Lapierre, Max Pacioretty, and especially Marc-Andre Bergeron get their first goals on Thursday (along with a sick goals by Cammaleri an Gomez). Bergeron will continue to help the powerplay tonight and through most of the games that Markov will be gone, and Lapierre is a good spark plug for that second line, at least in the short term.

Gomez and Cammalleri are simply amazing, not to mention Gionta, and will be incredible leaders for this team over the next few seasons. They're stepping up big time for the Habs, and it seems like no matter what, when they're on the ice, something is happening.

So while the Rangers have been incredible this season, the Canadiens have really been picking up their game. Tonight might be the first true test, though, as the Thrashers, as good as they've been playing, an the Islanders, aren't the best teams to judge a team against. And while any win is a good win, and teams don't choose their opponents, and all that junk, the Canadiens really haven't won a solid game against a contending team, and the Rangers are a contending team.

With the Penguins and Blackhawks coming up next week, before and after the Canadiens' second tilts against the Leafs and Islanders, respectively, this in an important game for the Canadiens.

That being said, my prediction for the night is:

Canadiens 5- Rangers 3

Lunqvist poops the bed but Higgins finally breaks out with 2 goals, with Avery contributing as well. For the Canadiens, Gionta gets his 5th, Cammaleri his 4th, Bergeron his 2nd, and D'Agostini and Spacek contribute their first goals of the season.

Enjoy the game tonight folks!

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QUICK SITE NOTES

Before I let you guys go, I'd like to personally thank you for giving TCL a record day in terms of visits yesterday. I'd like to especially thank Kyle Wellwood for being the source of most of those hits through Twitter! Hopefully we can keep growing and building on yesterday's numbers.

I'd also like to welcome Dustin Leed as our newest blogger. He will be providing us with all the news and scoops out of Philadelphia and the Flyers, so keep an eye out for his blogs.

There will be a new site design going up soon as well, so it's an exciting time for all of us here at The Checking Line!

Stay classy and thanks for visiting the site!

Prax
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