The Montreal Canadiens close out their March schedule tonight as they face the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre. It has been a very successful month for the Habs thus far as they enter tonight’s contest with an 8-3-2 record in March.
It will be the third meeting of the season between the original six rivals and Montreal is looking for a clean sweep after posting 3-1 and 3-0 wins in February. Both wins came on the back of strong Carey Price performances, as he stopped 41 of the 42 shots he faced in the two wins.
The Rangers have not met their lofty expectations placed on them this season after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last year and then adding superstar Rick Nash to an already impressive lineup. The Rangers are currently battling with division rivals, New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils for the final playoff spot in the east.
The Canadiens enter tonight’s game looking to pad their lead over the Boston Bruins for supremacy in the Northeast division. The Bruins lost this afternoon to the struggling Philadelphia Flyers and remain one point behind the Canadiens in the standings. The Pittsburgh Penguins won their 15th straight game today and are beginning to pull ahead of Montreal for first in the conference.
Nathan Beaulieu was recently called up from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and will make his NHL debut with the Habs tonight. Beaulieu is an offensive defenceman who was drafted by Montreal in the first round of the 2011 draft. Beaulieu had an extremely impressive four year junior career with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL. He won a Memorial Cup in 2011 with the Sea Dogs and was named to the tournament all star team in the process. Beaulieu also suited up for Canada at the 2012 World Junior Tournament, winning a bronze medal for his country.
In his first season of professional hockey, Beaulieu is currently tied for second on the Bulldogs in points with 25 and is leading the team in assists with 19. He will likely be paired alongside Francis Bouillon the same way Tinordi and Greg Pateryn were before him. Beaulieu is also capable of playing minutes on the powerplay and will surely get some time on the Habs second unit.
With Beaulieu coming up, Gabriel Dumont and Jarred Tinordi were both sent down to the Bulldogs. Habs G.M. Marc Bergevin continues auditioning defencemen before the upcoming trade deadline to see if an upgrade from outside the organization is needed. With Raphael Diaz return in question due to concussion woes the Habs biggest need may be a defender who can contribute on the second powerplay unit.
P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov are firmly entrenched on the top powerplay, but that leaves Josh Gorges and Bouillon on the second unit, two defencemen known primarily for their defensive game and not so much for putting up points.
One current Hab who will not be helping the powerplay is Tomas Kaberle. He was put on waivers this morning and likely played his last game in a Montreal uniform. While it is unlikely he is claimed due to his large contract and diminishing production, he will likely be sent down to the AHL in order to free up a roster spot for anyone that could potentially be brought in via trade.
Kaberle is an ideal candidate for the Habs to use their second compliance buyout on after this season. With Pateryn and Tinordi already showing they are capable of helping at the NHL level and Beaulieu playing well in the minors, there is just no room for Kaberle on this team anymore.