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Canadiens vs. Avalanche: Five things you should know

Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot logged 30:47 of ice time against the Islanders Tuesday night at the Bell Centre..
Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot logged 30:47 of ice time against the Islanders Tuesday night at the Bell Centre..

Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Avalanche game Thursday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

The matchup: While the Canadiens enjoyed a day off Wednesday, the Avalanche were in Toronto to launch a three-game eastern road trip. Montreal is coming off a 4-2 home win over the New York Islanders, which ended an eight-game winless streak (0-5-3) for the Canadiens. Despite the extended losing streak, Montreal has 30 points and is only one point behind second-place Florida and third-place Buffalo in the Atlantic Division. The Avalanche ran their current winning streak to four games after beating the Leafs last night and have 36 points, good for second place in the Central  Division.

Back-to-back challenges: While there was a sigh of relief after winning Tuesday, coach Claude Julien noted that the Canadiens’ next four games feature two back-to-back sets. After Thursday’s game, the Canadiens will fly to New York to face the Rangers on Friday. Next week, they play in Pittsburgh Tuesday and then come home to play the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Carey Price is expected to start against the Avalanche, but we’ll probably have to wait until Friday to see whether Julien gives rookie  Cayden Primeau his first NHL start in New York. Primeau was called up from the Laval Rocket this week as a replacement for the underperforming Keith Kinkaid.

Ironman performances on defence: The two players who figured to benefit the most from the day off Wednesday were defencemen Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber. Chiarot topped 29 minutes of ice time in Boston Sunday and came back to log 30:47 against the Islanders. The 34-year-old Weber was on the ice for 29:49 Tuesday and was named the game’s first star. He picked up an assist and added an empty-net goal. He has nine goals and 14 assists and is one point behind Tomas Tatar in the team scoring race. Gustav Olofsson, the sixth defenceman, played less than six minutes and was sent back to the Laval Rocket Wednesday.

Defence still far from good: There has been a lot of talk in the past week about the Canadiens’ improved defensive play, but there’s still a long way to go. Montreal is giving up 3.46 goals a game, which ranks 28th in the NHL and it’s not good enough if you’re scoring only 3.25 goals a game. The penalty-kill is part of the problem. It went 3-for-3 against the Islanders, but it has allowed one goal for every four opposition power plays and ranks 30th.

MacKinnon off to another good start: After scoring 97 and 99 points the past two seasons, Nathan MacKinnon is on pace to hit the century mark this season. Jonathan Drouin’s junior linemate is fifth in the NHL scoring race with 43 points, tied for sixth in goals (18) and is fifth in assists (25). Defenceman Cale Makar, the fourth overall choice in the 2017 draft, is making a smooth adjustment to the NHL after two all-American seasons at UMass-Amherst. He leads all rookies with 27 points. The Avalanche may have captain Gabriel Landeskog back in the lineup. He has missed 16 games with a lower-body injury, but coach Jared Bednar said there’s a possibility he could face the Canadiens.

phickey@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/zababes1

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