The Rangers (9-9-0, 18 pts) are in Montreal Saturday night to face the Canadiens (10-8-2, 22 pts) for a Hockey Night in Canada showdown of Original Six teams. Not only will the Blueshirts be looking to get back on track following Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Devils, they will be trying to win at the Bell Centre for the first time since March of 2009---a span of eight games, that included two last season in which the Rangers did not score a single goal.
Three new faces on the team--players with no part in the Rangers recent tough history at the Bell Centre---will be inserted or reinserted into the lineup Saturday to help the Blueshirts try and break their Montreal hex. Rookie goaltender Cam Talbot will make his fifth start of the season in the place of Henrik Lundqvist, who owns a lifetime 13-11-2 record and 2.85 goals against average against the Canadiens. Veteran center Dominic Moore--a former Montreal Canadien himself--returns from a seven-game injury related absence on Saturday, with Brandon Mashinter set to be the healthy forward scratch. And Justin Falk---who has been scratched in 11 straight games---will get a chance to play as he takes the place of fellow defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
Of course the timing of all three lineup moves is a bit of a coincidence and are not necessarily being made just because the Rangers are playing in Montreal. With the team playing on back to back nights and starting a nine-games-in-15-nights stretch, Alain Vigneault's decison to start Talbot (3-1-0, 1.97 GAA, .933 save percentage) is a logical one, and Lundqvist will get the start at Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. Moore's return from injury just happened to come on this day, though the Rangers certainly will benefit from his strong defensive play and work on the penalty kill against a quick, skilled opponent. And the Falk move has more to do with Alain Vigneault's displeasure with Del Zotto's recent play and giving Falk an opportunity, as opposed to anything to do with facing the Canadiens.
Since their last game against the Devils the Rangers have been able to catch their breath a bit to prepare for the grind that lies ahead---nine games in 15 days to close out the month before another 11 games in 23 days before the Christmas holiday break. The Rangers just had three days away from game action, the highlight of which has been Rick Nash's return to full practice with the team. Nash has been headache-free for more than a week, skating every day, now practicing with his teammates, and he travelled with the team to Montreal---his first trip since being injured on October 8th in San Jose. There is no timetable yet for Nash's return to the lineup, but he will skate again in Montreal and it is becoming more evident that his return is closer at hand.
In the Canadiens the Rangers will be facing an opponent coming off an exciting come-from-behind 3-2 shootout win in Columbus Friday night. Peter Budaj, who shut out the Rangers at The Garden on October 28th, stopped 23 of 25 shots and then all three in the shootout to backstop the victory for Montreal. That means Carey Price will get the start Saturday against the Rangers at the Bell Centre. Though Price is only 7-7-2 on the season, his 2.12 GAA is 11th best in the NHL, and his .933 save percentage is eighth among all goalies. Price has four career shutouts against the Blueshirts.
Montreal is just 2-3-2 in its past seven games, and just 5-4-2 at the Bell Centre this season. The home crowd will be its usual stoked self, though, for Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada, and even more charged up at seeing popular former Ranger Brandon Prust back on the Bell Centre ice. Prust, who missed a month's worth of action due to injury, returned to the Habs lineup Friday on the road against the Blue Jackets, got into a fight and totaled seven penalty minutes. He has appeared in eight games this season and is 2-1-3 with 19 penalty minutes.
Of course it always special for Vigneault to coach a game in Montreal, the city where he had his first NHL head coaching job from 1997-98 to 2000-01. Vigneault was a runner up for the Jack Adams Trophy as the league's top coach when he was behind the bench for the Canadiens in 1999-2000, and was the second youngest coach in franchise history when hired at the age of 36. Vigneault has spoken often about how special Montreal remains to him, and Saturday he will begin a new chapter coaching the Rangers for the first time in this city.