Game 6 Preview: Avs @ Habs home opener. Let the Centennial Distractions Begin!
Here's something no one's really talked about since hockey made it's graceful return to us... How is this brand new troup of Canadiens players going to react to the renewed hoopla of Centennial celebrations going into the tail end of this historic year?
Honoring players, rivalries, great moments in Habs history, ridiculously old uniforms, and whatever other kinds of celebrations and ceremonies the organization can think of... well, it wasn't so great for the team last year, at least not on the ice. A lot of so-called experts will tell you that all these pre-game ceremonies and distractions were one of the main reasons why the Canadiens faltered during the season last year and then in the first round of the playoffs, where they were notoriously swept by the Boston Bruins.
Ironically, these events will come to a close with a game against the Bruins on December 4th at the Bell Centre. But until then, there is still a large amount of ceremonies to go through. And while the majority of events and ceremonies have come and gone, there are still several Centennial jersey nights to go through, which will certainly come along with a long pre-game ceremony each time, as well as the centennial game mentioned above.
Naturally, the team doesn't have it as heavy as they did last year, but it would be irresponsible to say that this team didn't have as much pressure on it to perform on the ice as it did last year, and they're going to have to deal with a ton of distractions as they attempt to accomplish this feat.
The players simply need to be careful so they don't get swept up in said hoopla. Last year's team did, and they suffered for it. Now, almost a dozen players have different mailing addresses as a result. And interestingly, a lot of them already knew what it was like to play in this city before all these pre-game ceremonies and off-ice activities began.
The 2009-10 version of the Montreal Canadiens is one where only half the players that will suit up for tonight's game have experience as Montreal Canadiens. Only one player on this team has been here since the lockout (Andrei Markov), and he's injured for the majority of the season. While the Mike Cammaleris and Brian Giontas and Scott Gomezes have gotten a taste of what it's like to wear le blue, bland et rouge, tonight is their first true test.
A lively hockey arena which will be to its capacity of 21,273, a vast majority of which will be rockous Montreal hockey fans that have been deprived of live hockey for over 6 months, and that aware of the fact that their team is 2-3 and hasn't looked that great on their opening road trip.
No matter how much the coaches try to shield their players from the media and any sort of negativity before games, the players know these things, and it’s almost certain that they feel the pressure, and tonight’s test is how they deel with a very intimidating Bell Centre crowd.
And if all this pressure wasn’t enough, the Canadiens are due to face a surprisingly formidable opponent tonight, as they open their Bell Centre season against the Colorado Avalanche. Incredibly, the Avs are sitting in 1st place in the Western Conference at 4-1-1. They’ve scored 21 times, good for 7th place in the goals for column, and they’ve only given up an impressive 13 goals in 6 games, good for 6th place in goals against. Very impressive numbers for a team that bombed the season last year.
And they have several players to thank for it. Atop that list if the most underrated goaltender in the league, Craig Anderson, who has started and completed each of Colorado's 6 games, ammassing a ridiculous .940 save percentage and a spectacular 1.98 GAA, as well as a shutout, facing over 33 shots a game, on average. Anderson has made himself the key to any success the Avalanche have had and will have this season.
Wojtek Wolski is their leading pointgetter and goal scorer (6-4-3-7), and Kyle Quincey is making an early bid for the Norris trophy, picking up 5 assists and 6 points in as many games, after being traded from Los Angeles this summer in the Ryan Smyth deal.
Milan Hedjuk is another player who's off to a good start with 4 goals and 6 points. Defenseman John-Michael Liles and Paul Stastny are next with 5 points each.
Other players to look out for are young centers Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchesne, who have proven to be a big part of this surprising team, whatever the stats may tell you. Any team that ices two out of four centers at 18 years old and still succeeds deserves that success.
While I'm sure I'm overlooking a fair bit of impressive players on this team, there is one more player who should get the spotlight. This is someone who will probably be a factor tonight, and is an old friend of the Canadiens, to say the least, both as a Hab and a Toronto Maple Leaf.
Darcy Tucker returns to the Bell Centre tonight, and after showing the Maple Leafs who's boss, he looks to do the same at the Bell Centre against his former rivals. Naturally, there aren't many players on the Canadiens left for the former Leafs pest to pick on, but Tucker would absolutely love to be the determining factor in tonight's game. His 5 points (2 of which were acquiredon Tuesday against the Leafs) speak for themselves. He isn't against dropping the gloves and I'd bet that he probably will against someone like Travis Moen, and he seems to have rekindle some of his old scoring touch. Look out for number 16 tonight.
As most of you probably already know, Shawn Belle has been recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs in order to fill the 6th spot on defense left void by the demoted Yannick Weber. Weber proved that he wasn't ready for the NHL, going pointless and -4 in the 3 games he played in Western Canada.
Most people thought that Marc-André Bergeron would be suiting up for the Canadiens tonight, myself included, but reports are that he isn't ready for NHL play just yet. The most recent signing by the Canadiens can certainly compete at the NHL level, but he's only played a single game with the Bulldogs, who have almost a week off between games this week. After they play 3 games in 4 nights next week, Bergeron should be about ready for a call-up. By all accounts, he was fairly impressive in that game, racking up 2 assists in the Bulldogs home opener.
The biggest loser in all of this seems to be Matt Carle, who loses out on yet another chance to make his NHL debut. Belle should be good in that number 5 or 6 role, so long as he keeps things simple, plays the body and doesn't try to go out of his way to impress anyone. According to Habs Inside/Out, he will be paired with Paul Mara and will play the left side.
Greg Stewart watches from the press box as a healthy scratch, along with Glen Metropolit, who is still recovering from bruised ribs suffered in the second game of the season, against the Sabres, and Travis Moen debuts on the top line, looking to spark some offense from the big guns.
Carey Price will likely get the start, and will be sporting a brand new mask, dropping the country singers for grim reapers and ace of spades. Personally I think it looks pretty badass. Lots of stuff going on on this one. Thanks to Habs Inside/Out once again for the image:
Enjoy the game tonight folks. Knock back a few beers, eat your chicken wings, and hopefully we'll have something to celebrate tomorrow!
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