The New York Rangers raced out to perhaps the most surprising start in hockey by bouncing back from a season-opening loss with seven straight victories, but they have hardly been impressive in their last two contests.
New York looks to avoid its first three-game regulation losing streak in nearly two years Saturday night when it visits former Ranger Scott Gomez and the Canadiens, who continue a six-game homestand seeking their third consecutive win.
New York (7-3-0) lost 3-2 at Pittsburgh in its season opener, but outscored its opponents 30-12 in cruising to seven victories in a row.
That outstanding start had the Rangers looking like they could contend in the tough Atlantic Division, but two recent home losses have shown they still have some work to do. New York jumped out to a 2-0 lead Monday against San Jose but lost 7-2, then fell 4-2 Thursday to division rival New Jersey.
After the collapse against the Sharks, though, Rangers coach John Tortorella was pleased to see his team battle back from a two-goal deficit against the Devils.
"I thought we stood up pretty well when we were down 2-0," Tortorella said. "This is when you start finding out about your club when you go through stuff like this."
Montreal (4-5-0) was stuck with perhaps the league's strangest schedule to begin the season, opening with a five-game road trip followed by six back home at the Bell Centre.
Three losses to end the road trip weren't made better by two more to open the homestand, but the Canadiens have shown signs of getting turned around in their last two games. Brian Gionta scored in regulation and the shootout in a 2-1 win over Atlanta on Tuesday, then five different players scored Thursday in a 5-1 victory against the New York Islanders -- Montreal's first regulation win in 13 games dating back to last season.
"We're making it hard on ourselves," said winger Michael Cammalleri, who scored for the second time in three games. "Every game's been so tight, and it's important to try and win in tight games and find ways to win those games but at the same time you can't do that 82 times a year... ."
Gionta leads the Canadiens with four goals, but Gomez -- traded to Montreal in a seven-player offseason deal despite tying for the Rangers' lead with 58 points -- will be the focal point. Gomez scored 16 goals apiece in his two generally disappointing seasons in New York, and has five years and $33.5 million left on his deal.
That move freed up space for the Rangers to sign Marian Gaborik, who already has seven goals and six assists.
Henrik Lundqvist will almost certainly be in net trying to keep the Rangers from their first three-game stretch without a point since Dec. 3-7, 2007, but he's struggled in recent visits to Montreal. The All-Star is 2-1-1 in his last five road starts against the Canadiens with a 4.51 goals-against average.
It's far less certain who will get the starting call for Montreal. Carey Price has been benched for the last two games and is 2-4-0 with a 3.36 GAA, while Jaroslav Halak has surrendered one goal apiece in the Canadiens' two victories.
Neither has fared particularly well against the Rangers. Price is 1-1-1 with a 3.35 GAA, while Halak is 2-2-0 with a 3.26 GAA.
Coach Jacques Martin wouldn't commit to a starter.
"Well, when it comes to goalies I usually wait until the night before to sleep on it," Martin said. "I get my bright ideas then."