MONTREAL — Since Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 shots to blank the Canadiens, 2-0, in New York on Oct. 8, both teams have gone south. The Rangers are 2-4-2 and the Canadiens are 1-5-1 since then, with both clubs struggling to find some traction.
Neither of the two teams, which met in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, has won two games in a row, and the fans in each city are howling in advance of Saturday’s rematch at Bell Centre. And why not?
The Rangers’ structure has cracked in almost every game, allowing open shots early on Lundqvist, who also has been uncharacteristically shaky. His 3.12 goals-against-average and .900 save percentage in nine games is concerning.
In a bit of a surprise, backup Ondrej Pavelec will start rather then Lundqvist. Pavelec made 27 saves in the 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. “He did a good job. I just feel it’s the right thing to do for the group for tomorrow,” coach Alain Vigneault said Friday. “He stopped the puck. Goaltenders have to stop the puck.”
Carey Price, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2014-15, is 2-6-1 with a 3.60 GAA and an .887 save percentage, and the Canadiens have scored only 18 goals in 10 games, the fewest in the league. They lead the league in shots per game at 38.4 (the Rangers are at 32.1), but not enough are going in.
The Blueshirts (3-6-2) have collected only eight points in 11 games, ranked 24th in the NHL. The Canadiens (2-7-1) have five points in 10. The Rangers are 0-2 on the road and the Canadiens are 1-2-1 at home.
“There’s been some awesome games in that building,” J.T. Miller said. “We’re desperate as well.”
Lundqvist, who practiced Friday, injured his left leg when Joonas Donski tripped over the goalie’s pad after his goal late in the second period of the Rangers’ 4-1 loss to San Jose on Monday. But it appears Vigneault is going with a hot hand.
Pavelec is 6-9-1 with a 2.74 GAA, .908 save percentage and two shutouts in his career against Montreal. He is 2-0-0 with a 1.92 GAA and a .942 save percentage in his last three appearances against the Canadiens.
On Oct. 8, the Rangers deployed seven defensemen and 11 forwards. That won’t be the case Saturday. If Friday’s practice was a template, Brendan Smith, scratched on Oct. 8, will dress and the Rangers will use 12 forwards and six defensemen. Paul Carey, the fourth-line center that night, has been replaced by Boo Nieves, who had three assists against Arizona. Right wing Jesper Fast, who still was rehabbing from offseason hip surgery on Oct. 8, will play his seventh straight game.