Game 16 Preview: Rivalries renewed (less certain players), Habs at Bruins!
Business is slated to pick tonight as the Montreal Canadiens finally get to visit their old friends, the Boston Bruins, tonight at the TD Banknorth Center!
The two age old rivals haven't faced off since the pre-season in any gameplay, or, more importantly, in game play that actually matters, since the Bruins swept the Habs in last year's first round of the playoffs.
That was last April.
Since then, both teams have gone through several changes. The Canadiens, as it has been well documented on this site and many others, changed more than half their line-up, getting rid of a lot of players who contributed heavily to the bitter feud the Canadiens and Bruins had built over the last couple of seasons, including Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, and maybe most importantly, Mike Komisarek. We've laughed at Komisarek enough this season, so we won't bring up his recently-turned-hilarious fights with Milan Lucic last season, or his turtling or face scratching (among other things).
Replacing these players are a skilled set of forwards who compete every shift, never give up on the play and, if all goes according to plan, will be thorns in the Bruins side all season. No matter how hard one team plays against the other. When Mike Cammalleri or Brian Gionta receive a big hit in a corner from a Bruin, they won't give up on the play. When Scott Gomez gets bowled over, he's get right back up and try to take you down with him. That's a big change from how the Canadiens played against this team in the past, whether they were on the winning side or not, and that will begin to show tonight.
As for the Bruins, they haven't gone through as many changes as the Habs, but two definitely stick out like thorns:
- One third of their first line is permanently gone, having traded Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs. Various players have stepped up to keep that first line spot warm for Taylor Hall (lulz), but one has to wonder whether the Bruins will suffer without a good young player like Kessel in the long run, as he was a big part of their success last year.
- Although this may not be as major as the status of their first line, former Hab Steve Begin traded in his red, white and blue for some black and gold, and will definitely be a player to watch for tonight, having already put up 6 points for the Bruins in 14 games, which is much better than any start he ever had in Montreal. He'll definitely be looking for some revenge against a team that turned its back to him this past summer.
One top of these changes that will stare the Habs right in the face when the puck drops tonight, the Bruins are right at this moment a team that looks even more different from the team that swept the Canadiens last season, and the reason can be pinpointed to injuries and slow starts from several players.
The players the Bruins certainly miss the most are Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. Both have gone down with significant injuries in this eerie, injury fulled start to the season, and both represent major offensive losses for the Bruins. While Bergeron has stepped up in Savard's absense, and Wheeler in Lucic's absense, neither really bring what Savard and Lucic brought to the Bruins in recent times.
Without Savard and Lucic, the Bruins aren't nearly as deep as they were only a few months ago, and their scoring has suffered as a result, putting up only 33 goals in 14 games, a stat that puts them well into the bottom third tier of the league in goals for. They haven't been giving up that many goals (37, not great, but not that bad either), but you clearly don't win games if you don't score goals, and that can be deciphered as the direct reason why the Bruins currently sit 12th in the eastern conference with a 6-7-1 record.
But you can't point the finger solely at injuries. On top of missing Savard and Lucic, the Bruins have been missing several players, in a sense, who have started the season with lukewarm performances:
- Patrice Bergeron leads the Bruins in points. He only has 8 of them!
- Blake Wheeler, 7 points.
- Zdeno Chara, six assists, no goals. If he stays on this pace, last year's Norris trophy winner will have his worst season since 2001-02.
- Dennis Wideman has 2 points in 11 games, and by all accounts, he's a shell of the player he was last season, a player who many called the most improved player in the league in 2008-09.
- Michael Ryder has 3 goals and 3 assists. He's on pace for 17 goals and 34 points, which is 20 less than he had last year, including 10 less goals.
- Finally, as if this list wasn't sad enough, David Krejci surprised many when he started the first game of the season. Most thought he wouldn't, due to pre-season injury, but he's been on the ice for all 14 of the bruins games, and has only contributed a goal and 4 assists, which puts him on a pace for 30 points. He had 73 points last year! (note: OUCH, just learned from habs Inside/Out that Krejci has Swine Flu and will be out of the line-up tonight. Miiko Lehtonen is in on emergency recall)
The way this Bruins team is slumping is incredible, almost unexplainable. Most thought that this team would compete for the cup again this year, and instead, through 15 games, it's looking like they might not even make the playoffs if they can't turn things around.
And we haven't even talked about the goaltending. While Tim Thomas has improved his play these last few games and his 2.60 GAA and .912 SVP are decent, certainly not worthy of his brand spanking new 6 million dollar price tag, not to mention the Vezina trophy that was recently engraved with his name.
If that wasn't enough, their powerplay is the WORST in the league at 11.5%, and their PK isn't much better at 22nd in the league (78%).
Even as a Habs fan, I don't think i can take joy out of the Bruins struggles. All you can do is look at the stats and standings and say ''ouch''.
Can the Habs beat the Bruins? Looking at the stats, it's a definite yes. But when it comes to this team, it almost seems like stats don't matter. Last year, the Canadiens only won a single game out of 10 against the bruins, only a year removed after sweeping them in the regular season and beating them in 7 in the playoffs. This year, both teams have been struggling, and while the Habs have been scoring more goals, that doesn't mean they'll be able to beat a team that's pissed off, and a team that knows that this is their biggest rival.
What will happen remains to be seen, and considering both teams' records through october, it's almost unpredictable.
But the Canadiens will have some fresh blood in their line-up tonight and will be looking to them for an offensive boost, and an overall better game from the bottom half of their forwards.
Tom Pyatt and Ryan White have accompanied the team to Boston after being called up yesterday. The two rank amongst the top four scorers on the Bulldogs, and according to Francois Gagnon on the Team 990 this morning, Pyatt has been the concesus best player in Hamilton this season.
No word yet on whether either of them will play tonight, but one has to wonder that at least one of them will. This gives Jacques Martin some flexibility with his forwards, and instead of keeping Andrei Kostitsyn on the 4th line, he can finally bench him for a few games. Gregory Stewart seems like the most likely candidate to sit tonight, and Kyle Chipchura can't be too far off. While he has been better in recent games, he hasn't contributed a single point in 13 games and is a -8.
While confirmation on lines and the goaltender will probably come later in the day, here is what I would expect:
Cammalleri - Gomez - Gionta (at least to start the game. If they get pushed around too much in the first, expect Martin to split them up and quick)
Latendresse - Plekanec - Lapierre (It's worked in the last few games and they produced a tic-tac-goal against the Thrashers, so there's no reason to break them up)
Patches - Metropolit - Moen (Another line that's played well recently)
Pyatt - Chipchura - White (I say give both kids a shot. Give them Chipchura as a center on his last shot, as to not rush white into a center role, and bench Andrei and Stewart).
Finally, Halak seems an obvious choice in goal after Price couldn't catcha break on Tuesday.
Edit: Price confirmed by Francois Gagnon.
Honestly, there's not much more to say. It's Habs-Bruins, so you know that it's going to be controversial, and you know that it's going to be the topic of water cooler conversations tomorrow morning. As much as you can analyze and spew stats, there's not much more to do than just sit back and enjoy the game.
Final Prediction: Habs 4 - Bruins 3 in a shootout
Neither team is playing their best hockey, but the Bruins have too many injuries and too many scoring issues to win this game.
Metropolit, Gomez, and one of the new guys with the goals before Cammy gets the game winner in the shootout.
MIKE KOMISAREK FUNNY PICTURE OF THE DAY
This is appropriate and you know it:
Enjoy the game!