A .500 record on the road is considered good but, after splitting four road games before Christmas, the Canadiens are going to have to be better than that over the final three games of their seven-game Christmas road trip if they hope to stay within hailing distance of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The journey begins Wednesday with a brief visit to Raleigh, N.C., to play the Hurricanes (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS. TSN-690 Radio). Normally, teams fly into a city the night before the game, but that requirement was superseded by the NHL rules on time off over the holidays. That means the Canadiens had to be up early Wednesday morning to catch a 7:30 a.m. charter flight. The Hurricanes currently hold a three-point lead on Montreal, but the teams are almost carbon copies of each other. The Canadiens are 25th in offence with 2.69 goals a game and the Hurricanes are only slightly better at 2.71. Both teams have allowed more than three goals a game, but the starting goaltenders — Carey Price and Carolina’s Cam Ward — have played well in December. Special teams? They match bad power plays against even worse penalty-killing units. The similarities would suggest this is one of those games that will be settled by hard work. The Canadiens showed their work ethic in last week’s 3-2 win in Calgary, but it was totally absent in the 3-0 outdoor loss to Ottawa at the beginning of the trip. It’s that inconsistency that has frustrated coach Claude Julien. There will at least one change on defence for the Carolina game and it won’t involve the return of Shea Weber, who has missed the past three games with a foot injury. There has been no update on his condition, but he wasn’t expected to make the trip south. Julien will sub Jakub Jerabek for recently recalled Brett Lernout, who struggled in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Edmonton. Julien said he knows Lernout can play better, but there is an urgency to earn points and Jerabek has proved to be dependable since he was recalled from Laval. The Carolina game is the first of a back-to-back set, with the Canadiens moving to Tampa Bay Thursday for what promises to be the most difficult test on this trip. The Lightning is the No. 1 team in the NHL, has the NHL’s top offence led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. And, with Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning has one of the best goaltenders in the league.
Canadiens resume uphill battle for playoff spot
Montreal Gazette | Dec 27