The matchup: This is the second of four meetings between these Atlantic Division rivals and the Canadiens were 5-3 winners in the first game on Dec. 28 in Florida. Tomas Tatar had a hat-trick in that game. The Canadiens are riding a modest two-game win streak after beating the Bruins Monday night in Boston. The win moved Montreal back into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida was expected to have a turnaround season but it hasn’t worked out that way. The Panthers are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games after losing 5-1 to Vancouver at home on Saturday. They are currently 12 points out of the final wild-card spot.
Good spot for Niemi: This is the second half of a back-to-back set, and even though Carey Price usually gets the starts at home, don’t be surprised if Antti Niemi plays against the Panthers. The veteran Finn was in goal in their previous meeting last month and made 23 saves for the win. Niemi has reason to get fired up against the Panthers because they were the team that placed him on waivers last season, giving the Canadiens an opportunity to pick him up. Niemi has a 3.84 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage but, more importantly, he has a 7-4-1 record.
Power outage: The Canadiens have the worst power play in the NHL (12.5 per cent success rate) and there are no signs of improvement. The Canadiens haven’t scored a power-play goal at the Bell Centre since Dec. 1, when Tomas Tatar scored in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers. Since then, Montreal has gone 0-for-25 in nine home games. Tatar leads the team with four power-play goals — he’s tied for 58th in the NHL — while Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi and the injured Andrew Shaw have three each. Jeff Petry is the team leader in power-play points with 10.
Gallagher on pace for 30: Going into the season, there were a lot of folks wondering whether Gallagher could repeat his breakthrough 31-goal season. We’re 47 games into the season and Gallagher is proving that last season wasn’t a fluke. He deflected a shot by Petry in Boston Monday for his 18th goal of the season. The 5-foot-9, 194-pounder has made a career out of setting up in front of the net and getting the better of the large bodies trying to stop him.
Defence isn’t a priority: The Panthers rank 11th in offence with 3.09 goals a game and you don’t want to take a penalty against them because they have the fourth-best power play in the NHL, with a success rate of 26.6 per cent. But the Panthers are far out of the playoff picture because they can’t — or won’t — play defence. They give up 3.55 goals a game to rank 28th and there isn’t a regular in the lineup who is on the right side of the plus/minus ratings. Jonathan Huberdeau is Florida’s top scorer with 47 points, but he’s a team-worst minus-22.