Game 4 Preview (and short game 3 review): Canadiens at Canucks


(Image from RDS)

The Habs roll into Vancouver tonight looking to rebound after a very tight game in Calgary last night. While the Canadiens will obviously be looking for the W tonight, they probably won't be the most desperate group of skaters on the ice.

Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks are 0-3 to start the season, sitting pretty in 15th place in the West (I know it doesn't mean much 3 games in, but it's funny nonetheless :)). The team has given up 13 goals, enough to run the greatest goaltender in the history of human kind out of the net just two nights ago, hilariously replaced by Andrew Raycroft. Luongo's numbers are scary bad. Sitting at a 4.55 GAA and 82% save percentage with 11 goals against in less than 3 games, Luongo's going to have to play insanely better tonight if he and the Canucks expect to beat the Habs.

The Canadiens aren't a powerhouse, nor are they near being one of the best teams in the league, but in 3 games, they've shown that they're serious about competing and they're serious about proving a lot of people wrong this year. In 3 games one goal games, they're 2-1, scoring 9 goals and giving up 8. Just like the Canucks, the player that has stood out the most is goaltender Carey Price, albeit for the opposite reasons.

Given the night off yesterday so he could play in front of friends and family in Vancouver tonight, Price's numbers in the first two games of the season were ridiculously impressive. A 95.1% save percentage and a 1.89 GAA is enough to put him amongst the best goaltenders, statistically, very early in the season.

But just like the Canucks, if the Canadiens expect to end up anywhere positive at the end of the season, Carey Price needs to continue being their best player. He needs to be consistent and borderline stellar. Toronto and Buffalo don't have the scariest offensive lines in the league, but they made sure to test Price from any and every angle, and when it was all said and done, Price passed with flying colors. Tonight, he faces a team that is balanced and dangerous in every position, despite what they're 0-3 record states.

The Canucks are going to be very angry tonight, and they're going to be aggressive. And it's up to the Price and the Canadiens to stand up and respond to Alain Vignault's crew. They're going to need to do something about the Sedins, about Alex Burrows and Ryan Kessler and about a solid group of offensive defensemen.

--------------------------

PLAYERS TO WATCH

(Besides Carey Price and Roberto Luongo, who will be the focus of tonight's game and will be expected to stand on their respective heads).

MONTREAL:

- Travis Moen: 2 goals, 1 assist, a point per game and 2 fights Saturday night (not to mention an amazing +4), Moen knows what kind of tempo is played in the west, and he will be looking to match that tempo and add to his impressive start. If Jacques Martin can get his match-up, he, along with Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre, will be matches up against the Sedins, and they will be looking to bruise and bang as much as they can.

- Tomas Plekanec: Plekanec has been very impressive in the early season, after an off-season of getting a lot of heat from Habs fans and the media in this city. He's amassed a goal and 2 assists in 3 games and is tied with his twin brother Brian Gionta for the lead in shots for the team. He's done everything you'd expect out of a player, he's gone to the net and played well defensively, and will most likely continue impressing tonight.

- Georges Laraque: I can't stress enough how much Big Georges has impressed me so far this season. He obviously doesn't play much, but he hasn't made a single mistake on the ice, and I don't think anyone other than Dion Phaneuf has bumped him off the puck while he's had it, and who can blame him for that? There isn't really anyone in the Canucks line-up that I can think of that Georges would want to fight (besides, he's probably saving himself for his old team in Edmonton on Saturday), so expect a solid 5 to 7 minutes from Georges tonight.

VANCOUVER:

- The Sedins: They're going to be all over the place tonight, especially with former Habs bench boss Alain Vignault dictating the pace with last change tonight, and will need to be watched closely by the Canadiens checkers. They could potentially have a big night tonight, especially if the Canucks manage to get out of their rut (ok, maybe I'm just justifying trading Iggy for Henrik in my fantasy league to match up with Daniel...)

- Shane O'Brien: Not the Canucks best or most used defensemen, but he strikes me as the type to match-up well against a team like the Habs. I have a feeling he'll be a player to watch tonight.

--------------------------------

LINE-UPS AND NOTES

Taken from TSN's Ice Chips. Simply projected line-ups for now, as Jacques Martin said there might be some last minute changes on the forward lines before the game. For the Canadiens, if I was a betting man I'd predict that Matt D'Agostini would take Gregory Stewart's place on the 4th line. He might not be the greatest fit with Kyle Chipchura (who did his job last night) and Georges Laraque, but Stewart has looked horrible early in the season, and if I've learned anything about Jacques Martin in the last few months, it's that he doesn't have a high tolerance for stupid defensive mistakes. And with Chipchura, Laraque, Moen, and others are willing and able to drop the gloves when needed, Stewart becomes next to useless in the line-up.

Also on this proverbial short-leash are Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn. Unless Jacques Martin does something drastic, both will be in the line-up with Tomas Plekanec on the second line, but if they don't produce tonight and their defensive play is lacking, they could very well find themselves benched late in the game in favor of promoting a Matt D'Agostini or Guillaume Latendresse or even Travis Moen onto that line, and they could very well find themselves in the press box on Saturday night.

That being said, here are tonight's projected line-ups:

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Cammalleri - Gomez - Gionta
Pacioretty - Plekanec - A. Kostitsyn
Latendresse - Lapierre - Moen
D'Agostini - Chipchura - Laraque

Hamrlik - Spacek
Gorges - Mara
Weber - Gill

Carey Price between the pipes.

Potential scratch: Gregory Stewart

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

D. Sedin - H. Sedin - Burrows
Raymond - Kesler - Samuelsson
Glass - Wellwood - Bernier
Hordichuk - Johnson - Rypien

Mitchell - Salo
Erhoff - Edler
O'Brien - Bieksa

Luongo between the pipes.

Potential scratches: Rome, Shirokov

--------------------------------

Quick thoughts on last night's game

Ok, I'll admit, I only watched the 1st period in full last night. I dozed in and out of sleep for the rest of the game. The life of a working man... I'm pretty amped for tonight, already had an energy drink and I will be making a pot of coffee at 9ish (not to mention that the beginning of the Ultimate Fighter on Spike should tide me over until the game starts), but I was pretty disappointed I missed the majority of what was an incredible game (at least from what I saw in the first period) last night pitting the Canadiens against the Flames.

I don't think I remember more than 2 or 3 whistles in the first half of that period, and honestly, it got me really excited. To see end to end, high tempo hockey, to see both the Canadiens and the Flames playing well, and to see three quick goals towards the end of that period. By every indication, the rest of the game was also very good, and one of the best games so far in this young season (I believe the barn burner between the Flyers and the Caps last night takes the cake on that one though).

I'm very glad to see the Canadiens off-season acquisitions work out for the team. Beyond Hal Gill, who is what he is and will play how he will play for the majority of the season, and Jaro Spacek who's looked, if anything, out of shape, the big names signed this off-season have looked great, and it continued last night. Out of the 4 players tied for the lead in points for the team, 3 were acquired in July. Paul Mara, Travis Moen and Mike Cammaleri all have 3 points, and the expectations were much lower for two of those 3. Gomez scored a beauty last night, and Gionta has arguably been the Canadiens best forward along with Travis Moen.

Coupling that with the returning players who have looked good (Georges Laraque, Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges, Glen Metropolit before he got injured, among others), but still managing expectations, it's exciting to be a Habs fan again, after over a year of turmoil, heartbreak and uncertainty. And last night's effort from the players more than proved that.

All this being said, enjoy what's sure to be another great game tonight from GM Place in Vancouver, if you can stay up that late! I'll be back tomorrow with a game review, and I will be posting tweets so long as I'm awake about the game, so make sure to follow me on Twitter if you haven't done so already!

Also, don't forget to search for and join our group on Facebook, and start posting on the damn forums!!

--------------------------

FINAL PREDICTION

HABS 3 - NUCKS 2 SHOOTOUT

Habs scorers: Travis Moen, Andrei Kostitsyn (Camalleri with the shootout winner)

Canucks scorers: Daniel Sedin, Willie Mitchell

Enjoy the game!

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com