Game 8 preview: Underrated Thrashers set to face ''Desperate'' Habs

Is ''desperation'' the right word to describe how the Montreal Canadiens need to play tonight, as they face the impressive 4-1 Atlanta Thrashers tonight at the Bell Centre?

It seems to be, at least for Mike Cammalleri. The should-be first-line sniper used the nasty word above to describe how his team needs to think heading into tonight's tilt in a post-practice interview yesterday. Maybe he was just trying to impress the Montreal media with his ability to use big words, also dropping the following while taking questions: "consummate", "feasible", "conducive", "urgency", and "competitiveness", among others. We get that you're smart, Mike, but you do know that more than half the people you're talking to don't speak English, right?

In all seriousness, Cammalleri expressed that while the team should remain calm and collected going into tonight's tilt, you can't help but feel that sense of urgency creeping up on you.

"Panic won't help us win. But a little urgency, a bit of desperation, is necessary for us. It's brewing. I think there's enough people here with enough competitiveness and character that (the skid) is not sitting very well with them."

And he's right, to a certain extent. No one likes to lose 5 games in a row, and in this league, losing 5 games in a row could be the proverbial nail in the coffin for a lot of teams' playoff hopes. Granted, as it has been said so many times, there are still 75 games to go and a lot of months left on the season, but having lose these past 5 games isn't going to make the Canadiens' playoff hopes any easier to accomplish.

But it's certainly too early for the word "desperation" to be tossed around. And it certainly isn't as necessary as Cammalleri makes it out to be. The Canadiens certainly need to win, but they don't need to be desperate. Ever seen a desperate guy at a bar? Is he the one usually going home with the hot chick? Or is it the guy with confidence, the guy who is cool, calm, and collected? You don't pick up girls by acting nervous about striking out and being totally desperate. By the same token, you don't win hockey games with desperation and fear of losing six in a row.

Hopefully, as I said, it's just Cammalleri trying to impress the media with his big words...

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CANADIENS LINE-UP NEWS AND NOTES

Marc-André Bergeron makes his debut tonight against the Thrashers, with Shawn Belle having been sent down. He will most likely play along side Paul Mara and get as much powerplay time as the team can give him.

Interestingly enough, Jaroslav Halak makes his second start of the season tonight after allowing 4 goals in his debut two weeks ago against the Calgary Flames. Carey Price hasn't been as bad as some fans in this city would have liked him to be, but Halak can't lose his game legs either.

The forward lines remain intact, with Gregory Stewart sitting in the press box once again.

I already went into detail about what has been good and bad with this team so far yesterday, but the first line needs to step it up tonight. Brian Gionta needs to score in a bad way, and Scott Gomez needs to start amassing some assists. Tomas Plekanec, as good as he has been playing, shouldn't be leading this team in points.

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WAIT, THE THRASHERS DON'T SUCK?

That's right. They're 4 and 1 in five games, having scored 20 goals and given up 13.

35% of their goals come from controversial Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. with 7 goals and 8 points in 5 games, he'll be hot on Alex Ovechkin's tail all year for the league's Maurice Richard scoring title. Definitely the player to watch tonight.

And while Kovalchuk has been showered in rumors of his moving to the KHL for a record breaking contract at the end of the year (or even according to some, possibly during the year), he's still there for now, and he has a chance to help the Thrashers make the playoffs for the second time in his career and dethrown Alex Ovechkin as the league's premiere goal scorer. He's won scoring titles before, if you ask me, he can do it again.

Kovalchuk can have his pick of any team in the world on July 1st, 2010. If he leaves Atlanta, it will be a crushing blow to an organization that no one really cares about to begin with. The Thrashers could not survive in Atlanta without Kovalchuk. But for now, he's there, and he's playing really well and helping his team succeed. While his shooting percentage is out of this world (43.75%), none of his goals are game winners.

And while Kovalchuk is the face of this franchise, this team isn't a one trick pony. Rich Perverley has 4 goals and 7 points with a +3 rating. Bryan Little, normally a goal scorer, and Tobias Enstrom, are racking up assists with 5 a piece (no goals), while Pavel Kubina and Nik Antropov have 4 each with no goals. Rookie Evander Kane has been playing well, while only being held to 3 points on the season. Maxim Afinogenov also has 3 points, but hasn't been as solid defensively, as he holds a -4 rating. Todd White is struggling after his career year last year, with only 1 goal in 5 games and a -4 rating.

In the goaltending department, youngster Ondrej Pavelec is 3-1 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.76GAA. Johan Hedberg made his debut over the weekend with a victory in which he made 40 saves.

Granted some of these players are going to have to pick it up, and the Thrashers might be relying a little too heavily on Kovalchuk, they're still playing good hockey. Still, you have to think they're due for a loss.

Can the Canadiens finally come out of their slide tonight and take the Thrashers for 2 points? Or will it be the Ilya Kovalchuk show?

Tune in tonight to TSN or RDS for the answer!

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline.