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Michael Cammalleri of the Montreal Canadiens tries to chip the puck past Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators in a game at Scotiabank Place on Saturday.

Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

Considered objectively it's not much of a fight, with one side wielding popguns and the other some of the heaviest artillery in the NHL.

And the popgun bunch is a few corks short of a chorus.

The Montreal Canadiens confirmed yesterday that top goal-scorer Michael Cammalleri suffered a right knee injury when he was hit by Ottawa Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov in a 3-2 overtime loss last weekend and will be out for a stretch measured in weeks, if not months.

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Cammalleri had a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Sunday, and met the team's orthopedic surgeon yesterday. According to various media reports in Montreal, he will be out a minimum of six weeks, and is suffering from a tear to his medial collateral ligament. The team is expected to announce the length of his absence today; the injury is not believed to be season-ending.

With linemate Andrei Kostitsyn also out with a knee problem - he is recovering from arthroscopic surgery and won't be back before the Olympic break - the news can justly be characterized as catastrophic for one of the league's most offensively-challenged teams.

"It's big, we've been injury-plagued all year, and we're staring to get healthy and more guys go down. It's obviously disappointing, but in the same breath, I still think we have a good crew of guys here who can get the job done," said winger Brian Gionta, who pointed out that his former team, the New Jersey Devils, was able to make the playoffs last season despite a long injury layoff for goalie Martin Brodeur.

But the Habs aren't the Devils.

Cammalleri and Kostitsyn account for 29 of the Habs' 91 even-strength goals this year, 10 of which have come in 4-on-4 overtime situations (one of the rare statistical categories where they lead the league). To put that into perspective, the Canadiens are the worst 5-on-5 team in the Eastern Conference, and the third-worst in the NHL, with a net minus-22.

"There's no doubt we're going to have to put the emphasis on better defensive play. … It's a bit like the end of November, we were missing players like [Andrei]Markov, [Scott]Gomez and [Brian]Gionta, and we still played some good games," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "We'll just have to find another way to win."

The Canadiens, who have lost three in a row, play host tonight to the Vancouver Canucks, who are the second-best 5-on-5 team in the league, behind the Washington Capitals, who provide the opposition in nine days.

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And contrary to the Habs, the Canucks have players who can score by the bushel at even-strength (they have scored 32 more than they've allowed), led by Henrik Sedin, the league's top scorer, and linemates Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows, who is coming off a two goal, two assist performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was careful to compliment the Canadiens and said, "They remain a very good team. … I'm sure they're going to come out hard."

But the truth is, the Canadiens are in a bad place.

The injury to Cammalleri, who was signed in part because of his durability (he's missed just 19 games since 2004-05) could scarcely come at a worse time.

The Habs are losing ground in the playoff race, sitting in 10th place in the East, and are playing a pre-Olympic run of seven games against some of the league's best and hottest teams: the Canucks, Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins (they also face the playoff rival Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers twice each).

Meanwhile, Vancouver has won seven in a row, including a 5-3 comeback win in Toronto on Saturday in which Canadian Olympic netminder Roberto Luongo was pulled after giving up three goals.

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That's bad news for Montreal.

When the Canucks hammered the Canadiens 7-1 in Vancouver last October - one of the season's low-water marks in Montreal - Luongo had been yanked in Vancouver's previous game after being lit up for six goals.

So is getting the hook against the Leafs the worst thing that could happen from a Montreal perspective? "I don't know about that, at least we won in Toronto. … We've shown a lot of character lately, I'll be ready to go," said Luongo, a Saint-Leonard, Que., native who will be playing before friends and family.

If the Canadiens are subtracting an offensive threat from their lineup, the Canucks may well be adding one tonight.

Defenceman Sami Salo, who has missed four games with a groin injury, practised with the team yesterday and said he hopes to play.

"We'll see how I feel in the morning," he said.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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