MONTREAL – The Boston Bruins can beat just about any team in the NHL except their Northeast Division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens are 5-0-0 against Boston and take an eight-game winning run that started last season against the black and gold into a game Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
“It’s between the ears,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien on Monday. “Sometimes, we try to do too much against them.”
“We have to stay disciplined.” The Canadiens also dismiss it as an interesting statistic, but one that holds no bearing on who will win their next meeting.
“Maybe teams that start with the letter B are easy to play against,” Canadiens winger Alex Kovalev joked. “I don’t know.”
“They beat most of the teams we lose to, but somehow we find a way to beat them.” For instance, Boston is 3-0 against the New York Rangers, including a pair of wins on the weekend. Montreal is 0-1-1 against New York.
“They’ve had a lot of injuries but they’re playing really well,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said of the Bruins. “Their goalie (Tim Thomas) has one of the best goals-against averages in the league, so you have to be careful.”
“They play well defensively and they’ve got guys who can score.” Carbonneau was more concerned with his club’s 2-0 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, minus injured star Sidney Crosby, on Saturday night.
Surprises awaited at practice Monday, as Michael Ryder was removed from fourth-line purgatory and reunited with former linemates Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins, while Steve Begin was put back onto the game lineup after missing 19 games with a shoulder injury.
Ryder lost his job on what was once the team’s top line due to a prolonged scoring slump. The two-time 30-goal scorer even sat out five games as a healthy scratch in December. He has only seven goals in 42 games this season.
“It’s good to be back with those guys, especially when you’ve played with them for so long and have a little chemistry,” said Ryder, who skated with Koivu and Higgins most of last season.
“You play with people so long, you get to know their tendencies. And I don’t think being apart that long should affect anything.” But Carbonneau said it was not so much that Ryder was out of the doghouse than it was that Koivu and Higgins have fallen into it.
Koivu has three goals in his last 28 games, while Higgins has three in his last 19.
Carbonneau is worried that opposing teams now concentrate on stopping the most productive trio of wingers Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn with centre Tomas Plekanec.
He needs goals from his other lines to counter that, but they have been slow to come of late.
“It’s not that they’re playing bad, but they have to produce,” Carbonneau said of the Koivu line. “If we’re going to be successful and stay successful we need production from the other three lines.”
“In the past, other teams didn’t really concentrate on Tomas that much and now they do, so we have to be better around him. We have two games before the (all-star) break. We just need a spark. That was our best line last year.” He said Koivu’s line should take advantage of not playing against the opposing team’s best checkers and best defence pair.
Ryder’s apparent promotion led to rookie Sergei Kostitsyn being bumped to the so-called fourth line with Begin and Bryan Smolinski. Except, the way Carbonneau was talking, it was not a demotion.
“I’m not disappointed with what Sergei has done,” Carbonneau added. “He’s does a lot more than just score.”
“He does good things defensively. He’s ahead of a lot of players.” Sergei Kostitsyn has three goals and five assists in 17 NHL games.
Begin has been ready to return for two weeks, but couldn’t get into the lineup while the Canadiens were winning. The team has lost only two of its last 11 games in regulation time.
“It’s my first game in seven weeks, so it’s fun,” the veteran checker said. “I’ve got to go out and play smart.” Putting Ryder on the Koivu line raised immediate suspicion that he was being showcased for a possible trade.
There has been much talk in the media of a deal with Calgary that would involve Alex Tanguay. Montreal scouts have been seen at Flames games and Calgary GM Darryl Sutter watched the Montreal-Pittsburgh match-up from the pressbox.
“You never know what they’re thinking,” said Ryder. “But whatever happens, it’s out of my control”.
“I just go out and play my game.”