CANADIENS (35-22-7) at COYOTES (28-23-11)
Season series: This is the second and final game between the Montreal Canadiens and Phoenix Coyotes this season. Montreal earned a 3-1 victory on Dec. 17 at Bell Centre.
Big story: Forward Martin Erat will make his debut for the Coyotes after being acquired in a trade with Washington on Tuesday, and he says is eager to help the team in any way he can.
“I really don’t care about where I fit (in the lineup),” Erat said. “I’m all about winning. The first thing that comes to my mind is to make the playoffs.”
Erat will enter the game with a three-game point streak (one goal, two assists).
Coyotes: Phoenix will enter the game in ninth place in the Western Conference standings, one point behind eighth-place Dallas, which hosts Vancouver tonight.
Mike Smith, who posted a 23-save shutout vs. Vancouver on Tuesday night, will start vs. the Canadiens.
The Coyotes didn’t commit a penalty Tuesday against the Canucks, the fifth game in franchise history that has happened.
Head Coach Dave Tippett reviewed the first game between the teams and found room for improvement.
“I thought we were very sound defensively,” Tippett said. “Didn’t give up a whole lot. Our back pressure, our ‘D” zone coverage was really sound. I still think we can go to the net a lot harder, find pucks around the net, hit the net with shots, things that allow you a better chance to score. I’d like to see us continue to push away at that part of the game and see if we can improve.”
Defenseman Derek Morris, who missed most of Tuesday’s game vs. Vancouver after being hit in the eye with a stick, practiced on Wednesday and is expected to play.
After acquiring Erat on Tuesday, Phoenix did not make any trades Wednesday, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Nonetheless, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney was thrilled to see such commitment from ownership, which gave him the green light to improve the team.
"We were involved in some of the bigger deals, which involved significantly increasing our payroll, and I went to the ownership and they were all behind it and all for it," Maloney told the Coyotes web site. "We got the approvals, we just couldn't finish the deals. For any Coyotes fan, it's an encouraging sign. The ownership was ready, willing and able to expand the budget if the deal made sense. That was encouraging."
Center Mike Ribeiro was drafted by the Canadiens in the second round (45th overall) of the 1998 Entry Draft and registered 50 goals and 103 assists in 276 games with Montreal from 1999-2006. In eight games vs. Montreal, Ribeiro has notched two goals and seven assists.
Canadiens: Left wing Thomas Vanek, acquired from the New York Islanders moments before the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, will make his Canadiens debut. Vanek has 21 goals and 32 assists in 60 games this season between the Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.
"You think about the hockey Mecca, and Montreal is it," Vanek said. "For me, playing so many years with Buffalo in that building in Montreal, it's just one of those buildings and cities that the fans are so electric. Now to be a part of it, I was just thrilled and super excited about it."
It's the third of a four-game West Coast trip for Montreal, which earned a 4-3 shootout victory against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Wednesday.
Andrei Markov won it for the Canadiens when he scored in the sixth round of the shootout. Goaltender Dustin Tokarski made his first start in the NHL since March 19, 2012 and made 31 saves for the victory.
"It's a whirlwind," Tokarski said. "I tried to lay down for a couple of hours of sleep, but I was just thinking the whole afternoon. I didn't get much [sleep]. It was a great day."
Who's hot: Coyotes captain Shane Doan has two goals and an assist in the past three games... Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty scored his 30th goal of the season Wednesday. He has four goals and two assists during his four-game point streak.
Injury report: Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is day-to-day with a lower-body injury... Goalie Carey Price (lower body) and forwards Michael Bournival (concussion) and Brandon Prust (upper body) are on injured reserve for Montreal.
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