Game 9 Preview: The Tavares Show rolls into the Bell Centre
When the New York Islanders drafted John Tavares last June 23rd in Montreal, no one really expected him to lead the Islanders to a quick playoff berth. The Isles were still expected to suck this year by just about everyone. But Tavares is still a special player, the kind you can build an organization around and improve it over several years. No one knows yet whether he'll be a lifetime Islander or whether he'll be the type of player that ends up moving around, or whether the Islanders will even be on Long Island with every passing season.
But one thing is certain. John Tavares returns to the Bell Centre tonight, the place where he was drafted, and the place where he will play the first of many games against the Canadiens, tonight. And you can be assured that Tavares will be the center of attention when the puck drops just after 7PM, with a roster that leaves little to be desired outside of a few players.
But Tavares might not be the biggest factor in tonight's game, despite the attention he brings as a first overall prodigy pick. Also making their return to the Bell Centre tonight are two players that have long histories with this city and this hockey organization.
The first, goaltender Martin Biron. Chased out of Philadelphia in favor of Ray Emery last year, many were left wondering how much Biron had left in the tank at the NHL level, only a year removed from leading the Flyers to an Eastern Conference playoff final. And despite the dismal 3.16 GAA, .891 SVP and 0-2-1 record he's amassed in 4 games so far this year, there is one thing to counter any speculation that he might crap the bed tonight, and that's his record against the Canadiens.
In 23 regular season games against the Habs, Biron is 13-8-0 with a 2.22 GAA and a .922 SVP. He almost single-handedly eliminated the Canadiens from the 2007-08 playoffs in 5 games, and he seems to play some of his best hockey against the team, being from this province. He will be in goal tonight and he will be looking to get the Isles their first win of the season.
The second player who will be a factor tonight is former Canadien Mark Streit. Streit signed a big contract on the Island at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season after the Canadiens decided not to offer him a big contract nor any assurances that he would be used solely as a defenseman. Streit is now the number one defenseman on the Island and is looked to in any and every key situation to be one of their best players. He's only played 3 games against the Habs, but he has a goal and 2 assists in those 3 games. Definitely a popular player when he was in Montreal, he's probably feeling pretty good about performing in this city once again.
Other notables on the Islanders roster:
- Matt Moulson (Who?) leads the Islanders in scoring with 5 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. I had no idea who this guy was before I looked up the Islanders' stats this afternoon, but this is a prime example of someone benefiting from playing with John Tavares (who has 1 less point than he does). Moulson was drafted by the Penguins in the 9th round in 2003, and played at Cornell for the entirety of his university career. The Penguins seemingly gave up on him as he was picked up by the Kings in 2006. He could never really stick to their line-up and was finally signed by the Isles this past summer, where he has seemingly found a home.
- Kyle Okposo is right behind Tavares and Moulson in scoring with a goal and 5 assists, and seems to be the playmaker on the Islanders' first line.
- Rob Shremp, once highly touted as Edmonton's top prospect, was picked up off waivers when the Oilers cut him once again. he hasn't really done anything with the Islanders in 5 games, picking up only one assist.
The Islanders roster is full of good, young players who can't seem to put it together. They'll be looking to pick up their first regulation win tonight, just like the Habs, after edging the Hurricanes in a shootout last night on a Tavares game winner. They'll definitely be dangerous tonight with some players looking to make an impact and coming off a win last night.
Some changes to the Habs line-up after their 2-1 win against the Thrashers on tuesday night. While the 1st line will remain intact after providing all of the Canadiens offense on Tuesday, all three of the other lines will be changing.
Maxim Lapierre gets a promotion, going from third line center to second line winger, as he suits up with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. This will be the first time the Habs try putting Lapierre on the wing, and while he isn't a long term solution to the Habs' second line problems, he might be able to provide a boost for the struggling offense in the short term, or allow someone else to wake up and start producing.
The third line will consist of Glen Metropolit (who makes his return after missing 6 games) alongside Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty (as I suggested yesterday), and the fourth line will be Kyle Chipchura with Matt D'agostini and Guillaume Latendresse.
Georges Laraque gets scratched after providing only one assist in 8 games and only 1 fight. Georges played well for who and what he is but he at least needs to fight more if he wants to stay in the line-up, and Jacques Martin probably doesn't see the need for a heavyweight against the Isles.
Guillaume Latendresse gets demoted to the 4th line after pretty much sucking through the first 3 week sof the season, only putting up one goal.
Jaroslav Halak remains between the pipes after an impressive performance against the Thrashers.
I'll be at the game cheering on the habs tonight, and while it'll probably be the same type of game they played on Tuesday night against the Thrashers, I'll predict a 5-1 win for the Habs, as the Islanders played last night and the Canadiens are still looking to win in regulation and give their fans a reason to chant at the Bell Centre. Goals from Cammalleri, Lapierre, Metropolit, Kostitsyn and Gionta, and Streit for the Isles.
Enjoy the game folks!