Pouliot recalled; Halak to face Thrashers

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The Canadiens December schedule is finally starting to ease up. After playing 11 games in the first 20 days of the month, the Habs have but 6 left to finish off 2009. It starts tonight with in Atlanta, before they take it to Carolina before a two day Christmas break. Boxing Day brings an all-Canadian tilt in Toronto, and next week sees the Canadiens visiting the Senators before back-to-back games in Tampa Bay and Florida. With most of these teams not that far ahead of the Habs in the standings, or even behind them, you have to think this group of players will be looking to finish 2009 at least 2 or 3 spots ahead of where they currently are in the standings.

By no means are any of these opponents gimme games, but definitely games in which the Habs should feel confident taking points from.

But before the Canadiens can look forward to 5 of these games, not to mention the holiday season, the Canadiens will need to get by the Atlanta Thrashers tonight, which has been easier said than done for the Habs this season. In their 3 prior meetings, the Canadiens are 1-1-1 against the Thrashers. All three tilts were 1 goal games, however the Canadiens baddly outshot the Thrashers in 2 of those games, something that doesn't happen very often.

The major difference in tonight's game, versus the three previous games, is going to be the re-emergence of defenseman Andrei Markov. The Canadiens' number one defenseman marked his return for a severe tendon laceration with a 2-goal performance in saturday night's 3-0 shutout of the New York Islanders. Look for him to be rewarded with more ice tonight, having only played 20 minutes on that night, to ease him back into the line-up.

Jaroslav Halak also gets rewarded tonight, getting his second straight start after stopping 40 shots in the Canadiens only shutout through 37 games. Whether you're a Price fan or a Halak fan, you can't argue with this move. Halak has the numbers to back it up at this point, and Price looked like he could use a rest after starting back-to-back games in New Jersey and against Minnesota.

The line-up should remain the same as Saturday night. Jacques Martin isn't one to mess with a line-up that gets him a shutout. However both Roman Hamrlik and Brian Gionta participated in today's game skate, and should be ready to go within a few games.

Moreover, after a 3-point performance in last night's Bulldogs' game, Benoit Pouliot has been recalled and is finally considered ready to play. He won't see action tonight, as he just played 3 games in 3 nights this weekend (not to mention he missed today's practice), but Jacques Martin expects him to be in uniform Wednesday night in Carolina.

STATS:

*Note: Injured players are ommitted from stat leaders.

-- HABS THRASHERS
Goals: Cammalleri (18) Kovalchuk (19)
Assists: Plekanec (30) Enstrom (24)
Points: Plekanec (36) Kovalchuk (36)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+10) Kubina (+14)
Time on Ice: Spacek (22:43 per game) Bogosian (22:57 per game)
PIMs: Mara (44) Boulton (51)
Shots: Cammalleri(124) Kovalchuk (91)
SVP: Halak (.913) Hedberg (.927)
GAA: Halak (2.67) Hedberg (2.33)
Record: Halak (7-5-1 13GP) Hedberg (9-4-0 16GP)
Injuries: Gionta (foot, day-to-day)
Hamrlik (knee, day-to-day)
Lehtonen (back, indefinitely)
Popovic (foot, January)
Last 10: 4-5-1, won 1 4-6-0, lost 1
Standings: 16-18-3, T9th, 35 points 18-13-3, T6th, 39 points
GF/GA per game: 2.40GF, 29th/ 2.76GA, 14th 3.21GF, 2nd / 3.00GA, 23rd
PP/PK %: 21.8%, 8th / 84.0%, 7th 23.2%, 3rd / 82.6%, 12th

WHAT THE STATS SAY:

Both the Habs and the Thrashers are strong specialty teams. The Canadiens have vastly improved their PP and PK, and it should only continue to get better with Markov back in the line-up. However their PK will have a difficult task tonight as they face one of the highest scoring teams in the league. Their saving grace will be in scoring goals themselves, which is easier said than done for the Habs. With some good defensemen in Atlanta, the Habs are going to need to get scoring for places other than their first line of Cammalleri - Plekanec - Kostitsyn if they want to win this one. The Gomez and Metropolit lines are going to need to step it up offensively, and the defense is going to need to be on their A-Game with many offensive threads on the other sid eof the ice.

No links today, but you can refer to all the major sources for breaking news as it happens.

FINAL PREDICTION: Thrashers 4 - Habs 3

Enjoy the game,

Prax
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