JETS (19-14-5) at CANADIENS (14-18-7)
TV: RDS (HD), TSN
Last 10: Winnipeg 6-3-1; Montreal 3-7-0.
Season series: This is the third of four meetings between these Eastern Conference foes, who square off for the first time in Montreal this season. The teams split the first two meetings, starting with the season opener on Oct. 9, when the Canadiens spoiled the Jets' return to the NHL by posting a 5-1 victory. Carey Price stopped 30 shots and Tomas Plekanec notched a goal and two assists. On Dec. 22, Winnipeg evened the season series by blanking the Habs 4-0 behind 27 saves from Ondrej Pavelec
and two goals and an assist from Blake Wheeler
Big Story: Winnipeg is flying high while the state of hockey affairs in Montreal is as tumultuous as could be. With a 3-2 victory over Toronto on New Year’s Eve, the Jets have won three straight and went 10-3-1 in December, recording the best winning percentage of any month in franchise history (Atlanta/Winnipeg). At the other end of the spectrum, the Canadiens ended 2011 with a 3-2 loss at Florida on Saturday, and their record of 1-7-0 in their last eight has become background to recent off-the-ice issues.
Jets: The Jets aim to match a season-high four-game winning streak as they kick off 2012 with a four-game road trip. In fact, they will play 15 of their next 21 away from home as they look for the same success on the road that they’ve had at the noisy MTS Centre. Winnipeg skated to an excellent 9-2-1 home record in December -- playing all but two of their 14 games on home ice -- and has one of the best home records in the League at 14-6-1. However, the Jets are just 5-8-4 as the visitors and will have to adjust to life on the road, having not played back-to-back road games since Nov. 25-26.
"We really played well through the month, and we have to carry that through," coach Claude Noel told NHL.com. "We're playing with some real passion, and we're doing some really good things. I don't see it changing on the road. Maybe there's a little difference in battle level, but all in all we've done good."
Canadiens: Coming off a 1-5-0 road trip and mired in the bottom five teams of the League with just 35 points, the Canadiens' frustrations boiled over during Monday's practice. Plekanec, the team's leading scorer, and defenseman P.K. Subban dropped the gloves and had a brief scrap after a 1-on-1 drill in front of the net. No big punches were landed and neither player was hurt before the scuffle was broken up by Josh Gorges, who signed a six-year contract extension a day earlier.
"It's nothing personal between me and P.K., it's about the team and to realize we have to start playing as a team," Plekanec said. "That's what happens during the course of the year when things are not going well. I wouldn't say it's a frustration thing, it's just that we realize we need to be better."
Subban shared a similar sentiment.
"We’re going through a rough stretch and sometimes that’s what happens," said Subban, who hopes the team could use the incident as a spark as it plays six of its next seven at home. "It happened last year a few times and I think we ended up coming out of it a better team. If you saw, afterwards everyone in practice started picking it up a little so sometimes that feistiness is a good thing."
Monday morning was already intriguing for the Habs, as general manager Pierre Gauthier addressed the media to give a mid-season assessment, during which he issued a qualified apology for hiring a non-French speaking coach in Randy Cunneyworth.
"I'm sorry if we upset people. Because that certainly wasn't our intention," Gauthier said. "What will happen in the future, at the end of the season, is that we will re-evaluate the whole file."
Who's Hot: Wheeler has a five-game point-streak, posting 3 goals and 4 assists in that stretch. … Montreal forward Erik Cole has scored a goal in each of his last three games.
Injury Report: Dustin Byfuglien
(knee) has missed the last three games, while Bryan Little
(foot), Randy Jones
(upper body) and Derek Meech
(lower body) remain sidelined for Winnipeg. Forward Jim Slater
(rib) has sat out the last two games but could return on Wednesday. … Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov (knee) and forwards Brian Gionta (lower body) and Scott Gomez (groin) are on injured reserve. Gionta did skate with the team Tuesday morning for the first time since he was injured on Dec. 8.
Stat Pack: Cole scored in the final minute of Montreal's loss to the Panthers on Saturday, his 200th career goal and his 19th against the Panthers -- the most he has against any team except Washington. … Winnipeg is in the top five in the League in first-period scoring with 40 of its 103 goals coming in the opening period.
Puck Drop: Teammates coming to blows is generally not too big of a deal in sports, as it happens from time to time. The Canadiens seemed to have already shrugged it off and Subban was joking about it afterwards.
"There've been a couple of jokes going around," Subban told the team’s official website. "I told Travis Moen that I thought it was him and that's why my gloves were off so quick -- he told me not even Josh Gorges could have helped me if that was the case."