Nearly two months into the regular season, there’s not much separation between the contenders and the pretenders in the Eastern Conference. Two very closely-matched teams will meet this Saturday when the Montreal Canadiens host the New York Rangers; the puck drops at 7 PM ET on Sportsnet.
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The Rangers (13-10-2) find themselves in third place in the Metropolitan Division, but they won’t make the playoffs unless they improve their performance level. New York have played a home-heavy schedule thus far, going 10-4 at Madison Square Garden and 3-6-2 on the road. They also have a minus-1 goal differential, and top RW Mats Zuccarello has missed back-to-back games with a groin injury.
After five straight losses, the Canadiens (11-9-5) have fallen to fifth place in the Atlantic Division standings with a minus-6 goal differential. They’ve played a much stronger schedule than the Rangers, but when they met on November 6, it was New York winning 5-3 as –120 home favourites. Three Habs have gone on injured reserve since then: wingers Paul Byron and Nikita Scherbak (lower body), and defenseman Noah Juulsen (face). However, the team has already benefitted from the return of captain Shea Weber, who posted an assist against the Carolina Hurricanes in his first game back on Tuesday.
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