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Habs hope to exorcise Devils in last home game of year

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens only have five games left before the Christmas break, and Thursday night's contest against the New Jersey Devils is their last home game before the New Year.

After losing their last three, the Habs (13-14-4) will be looking to close out 2017 at the Bell Centre with a victory.

"We've got one home game left before we head on the road for this Christmas break, so it's a pretty important five games for us," Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher told the team website. "We're going to try to take things game-by-game, but really understand that we can't have any bad nights. We've got to be accountable to our teammates, and try to string something together here."

The Devils (17-9-4) will be playing their first of a pair of back-to-back games, hosting the Dallas Stars in New Jersey the following night. New Jersey is coming off a big 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, snapping L.A.'s eight-game winning streak in the process. The Devils sit third in the Metropolitan Division.

Corey Schneider, who is expected to get the start in goal for the Devils, has started all but five games since the beginning of November, going 7-5-3 during that span, with a 2.35 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

The Canadiens haven't played since Saturday night, when they lost 6-2 to the Edmonton Oilers in Montreal, and saw their all-star netminder Carey Price get the hook after giving up four goals on 14 shots.

"We want to win hockey games, we're never satisfied when we lose," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty told reporters after the game.

The Devils will be without forward Taylor Hall, who suffered a right knee contusion in Tuesday's win over the Kings.

"The real positive news is that there is no structural damage," Devils coach John Hynes told NHL.com. "Bad news he won't play at Montreal, but it's just a contusion and it will take a little while for him to get ready and that's why we have him day to day."

One thing that has been working for New Jersey lately is their special teams. The Devils power play is sitting ninth in the league right now, as does their penalty kill.

Special teams is an area the Habs have struggled, with their penalty kill operating at a disappointing 77.7 percent clip, and capitalizing on 17.8 percent of their power-play opportunities.

If there's one thing that Montreal will have to capitalize on if they want to notch another one in the win column, it's New Jersey's weaknesses. One area that the Devils have struggled is on faceoffs. The Devils have the fourth-worst percentage in the league.

After Thursday's game, the Canadiens will hit the road for seven contests, including their annual holiday stint in the Sunshine State against Tampa Bay and Florida. The Devils will kick off a six-game homestand on Friday against Dallas.
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