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Hurricanes vs. Canadiens: Game Preview 12-31-13

Resolved... to close out 2013 on a positive note.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Hurricanes vs Montreal Canadiens
December 31, 2013 - 7:00 pm ET
PNC Arena - Raleigh, NC
TV - Fox Sports Carolinas
Radio - 99.9 The Fan

SB Nation Rival Blog: Eyes on the Prize (twitter @HabsEOTP)

Hurricanes Record: 14-16-9 (37 pts.)
Canadiens Record: 23-14-3 (49 pts.)

The Hurricanes will close out 2013 tonight at PNC Arena hosting the Montreal Canadiens. This is the first regular season matchup between the two teams, they met twice and split wins during the preseason, but the Canes haven't fared as well in recent regular season history, as the Habs were a perfect 3-0-0 in last year's series.

The Canes are playing in their 16th New Year's Eve game tonight, and their record is just 5-11-0 compared to the Canadiens who are 18-13-5 in 37 NYE games. The last time the two met on the final day of the year, the Canes won 5-3 to ring in the magical hockey year that was 2006.

Le Club du Hockey is currently third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference, firmly entrenched in playoff position. They are on the third game of a four-game road trip that swings through the southern states. They arrived in Raleigh Sunday night after a back-to-back series in Florida, defeating the Lightning 2-1 in a shootout on Saturday night before losing 4-1 to the Panthers on Sunday. Despite their impressive record, the Habs are an even 5-5-0 in their last 10 games, with 3 of those wins requiring extra innings.

The Canadiens took the ice at PNC yesterday for practice, in a manner of speaking. Head coach Michel Therrien mixed things up with a modified on-ice baseball game to keep the team loose and spirits high (report and video).

The Habs don't produce a lot of goals (22nd in the league in that regard) but they don't give up a lot either (3rd in NHL in goals against per game), and they are solid on both sides of the special teams battle. Tomas Plekanec is a point-per-game player against the Canes with 32 points in 30 games, and is second on the Habs with goals (13) and points (24). P.K. Subban leads all Habs in points with 27, mostly attributed to assists from the blueline. Max Pacioretty leads the team in goals with 15. He, Brandon Prust, and Lars Eller have been the most productive of late against the Canes, each logging four points in the last three games. In the slump-buster category, Raphael Diaz has yet to register a goal on the season.

Carey Price was in net Saturday, followed by Peter Budaj on Sunday, and Price is probable to get the start tonight. He is 8-5-1 with a 2.44 GAA and one shutout in 14 career appearances against the Canes.

Here's the projected lineup based on Sunday's game (from Eyes on the Prize):

Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Alex Galchenyuk - Lars Eller - Daniel Briere
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher
Travis Moen - Ryan White - Brandon Prust

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Francis Bouillon - Raphael Diaz

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

George Parros, Douglas Murray, and Michael Bournival were healthy scratches in the last game. Davis Drewiske is out after shoulder surgery.

The Hurricanes are looking to salvage something, anything, from a month of December that started out strong with a 4-2-2 record coming off a heavy travel schedule with a western road swing, but has petered out with an 0-3-2 record to bring the month to a close back on the east coast. They are now in seventh place in the Metro Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot.

Changes were expected as the holiday roster freeze was lifted, and the first shoe dropped yesterday when the Hurricanes traded forward Kevin Westgarth to the Calgary Flames in exchange for forward Greg Nemisz. Nemisz will join the Charlotte Checkers roster, freeing up Westgarth's spot on the Canes roster. Media is buzzing that more trades are on the way.

The line of Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, and Nathan Gerbe accounted for five goals in the last three games, but based on yesterday's practice that line will likely be split up going into tonight's game as Semin moves to the top line with Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. Patrick Dwyer will pull in with Jordan and Nathan Gerbe, and Tuomo Ruutu will move to third line with Riley Nash and Drayson Bowman.

Otherwise there are no known changes to the defensive pairings based on yesterday's practice. Cam Ward is probable to start. He is 14-8-3 with a 2.70 GAA in 25 career games versus the Canadiens.

Eric Staal has historically been a point-per-game player against the Habs, boasting 34 points in 33 games. He has 30 points in 39 games season-to-date but has been held without points in his last two games.

Jay Harrison (concussion) and Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) both remain sidelined on injured reserve. Anton Khudobin was activated off IR last Friday and assigned to the Charlotte Checkers on a conditioning assignment, where he faced 83 shots in two nights of consecutive games, losing 4-3 against the Chicago Wolves on Sunday but with a 41-save win and first start honors in last night's 3-2 win over the Rockford Ice Hogs.

Projected lineups (based on yesterdays' practice):

Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Drayson Bowman - Riley Nash - Tuomo Ruutu
Zach Boychuk - Manny Malhotra - Radek Dvorak

Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore
Mike Komisarek - Tim Gleason
Ryan Murphy

Cam Ward
Justin Peters

A few clicks for your pre-game reading and listening:

Monday's rink report, featuring comments from Eric Staal []

Hainsey's futile pursuit symbolizes Canes frustration [N&O]

Meet Jay Harrison, the NHL's brainiest blueliner [The Hockey News]

What's wrong with this team? Part 1 [Section 328]

Fathers Trip a Cherished Occasion []

Hurricanes look back to playing in WJC [Triangle Sports Network]

Westgarth traded as Canes look to make changes [N&O]

Kirk Muller audio from yesterday's practice [CanesPR]

The Canes will be in their black alternate jerseys tonight.  If you're headed to the game, your game ticket will also serve as free admission to tonight's First Night activities in downtown Raleigh. Visit the Hurricanes website for ticket details, and visit First Night Raleigh for information about all of tonight's events. Above all else, be safe and responsible as you partake in holiday festivities. We'll have the open game thread ready to go at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.