GAMEDAY: Habs / Bruins rivalries Renewed

Update: For a Bruins perspective, check out Wally Brennan's game blog at this link!

Also, on Saturday, I will be doing another game blog for the game between the Habs and the Pens at the Bell Centre, the second live blog in as many weeks, so keep an eye out for that!

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

If you could believe it, the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins haven't faced each other since December 4th, one of only two meetings (so far) between the rivals this season. And if the fact that the NHLs biggest and longest rivalry has been iced (no pun intended) for precisely two months is hard to believe, then you won't believe the results of those two games.

The first, on November 5th of last year, saw Carey Price stand on his head, making 42 saves and only giving up a single goal. Glen Metropolit was the only goalscorer in regulation time, while Mike Cammalleri had the lone shootout goal to give the Canadiens a 2-1 victory. And yes, I'm aware I used the same title back then. It's a long season with a lot of games, so leave me alone!

The next was, at least for me, the LEAST anticipated game of the the entire century. On December 4th of last year, the Canadiens entered the final night of their Centennial celebrations, and this blogger was extremely pessimistic about the potential embarrassment that could have ensued after a 3 hour long ceremony. Boy, was i wrong! Carey Price once again stood on his head, making 37 saves and limiting the Bruins to only a single goal. Glen Metropolit once again scored against his former team, but the story of the game was Mike Cammalleri (again), who registered a hat trick, his first of the season, and the first hat trick scored at the Bell Centre in a long time.

Many praised Cammalleri for rising to the occasion on a night where many great Habs legend took the ice for a skate and for a huge team picture filled with Habs greats, some not-so-great, and all the current players. It certainly ended up being a night to remember for many reasons None, for me, more resonating than Cammalleri's performance, who proved to me that night that he should be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens.

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

SO, WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Two months to the day from that magical evening at the Bell Centre, we find ourselves in an interesting situation, one that maybe none of us saw coming when the Habs and Bruins took the ice on December 4th.

The Bruins find themselves 5 spots behind the Canadiens in the standings. Although they're only 4 points behind with 3 games in hand, that's not anywhere near where fans of either team expected the Bruins to be, with less than 30 games to go in the season.

Moreover (and this stat is frightening), the Bruins leading scorer is Patrice Bergeron, who has an astounding 12 goals 33 points in 48 games. Eight other players have 20 points or more, but this is the team that was second in the league in goals scored last year, behind only the Red Wings, and first in goals against. This year, their goals for per game stat is equal to their goals against stat from last year, 2.32, and it's good for last place in the league. While they're still 6th in the league for goals against with 2.46, it's incredible how a team with so many offensive weapons can literally go from best to worst in the league.

We're talking about the class of the East last year. The team that absolutely destroyed the Canadiens in 6 regular season games, and swept them in 4 games in the first round of the playoffs. We're talking about a team with six 20+ goal scorers, 4 more with 10+ goals. A team with six 50+ point getters, six more with 25+. We're talking about a team that only lost a single player, Phil Kessel, in the off-season.

And this year, three Canadiens players have more points than the Bruins leading scorer?

What the hell happened!?

It may be a question better suited for TCL's new Bruins writer, Wally Brennan. I honestly can't even fathom an answer for that question. This team should be better. There's no reason for it to be so mediocre, and there's no reason for them to be sitting in 12th spot, struggling to even think of a playoff spot.

But the Canadiens aren't much better. The stars of the two prior games against the Bruins are either on the shelf for an extended period of time (Mike Cammalleri's obviously out with his MCL injury), struggling mightily (Carey Price has seemingly lost his title of number one goalie), or in Jacques Martin's doghouse (Glen Metropolit, goal-less in 18 games after starting so strong, has seen his ice time reduced and his role diminished as the season wears on).

And me? I'm still struggling to figure out what I think about this team. One night I hate them and want to cheer for the Capitals, the next, they're beating the Canucks and everything seems fine again. Sprinkle in an angry, bitter blog here and there and that's me.

Both these teams seem lacking in the identity department. While the Bruins are playing well, a good defensive game, they can't seem to score goals. And while the Canadiens can beat the best of teams and are capable of putting in a good effort, they're one of the most inconsistent teams in the entire league.

Both teams need a boost, and with two games between each other in the coming days (tonight at the Garden and Sunday in Montreal at the Bell Centre, a game which I will be attending), it's time for one of these two teams to make a stand, and decide what kind of team they want to be going into the playoff stretch. Which ever team wins tonight, will win on Sunday afternoon before the Super Bowl. Question is, is it times for the Habs to start winning again, or will the Bruins get out of their funk?

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

*Note: Injured players are omitted from stat leaders.

-- HABS BRUINS
Goals: Gionta/Plekanec (14) Sturm (16)
Assists: Plekanec (41) Chara (25)
Points: Plekanec (55) Bergeron (33)
Plus/Minus: Spacek (+7) Sturm (+7)
Time on Ice: Markov (24:03 per game) Chara (25:00 per game)
PIMs: Gill (53) Thornton (87)
Shots: Plekanec (143) Chara (157)
SVP: Halak (.929) Rask (.927)
GAA: Halak (2.43) Rask (2.13)
Record: Halak (15-8-2 26GP) Rask (10-7-2 23GP)
Injuries: Andrei Kostitsyn (knee, 6 weeks)
Paul Mara (upper body, DTD)
Mike Cammalleri (MCL, between 4 and 8 weeks)
Andrew Ference (week-to-week, groin)
Marc Stuart (4 weeks, pinky)
Last 10: 4-4-2, won 1 1-7-2, lost 1
Standings: 26-25-6, 7th, 58Pts, 57GP 23-22-9, 12th, 55PTS, 54GP
GF/GA per game: 2.49GF, T27th/ 2.67GA, 13th 2.32GF, 30th / 2.46GA, T6th
PP/PK %: 25.2%, 2nd / 83.5%, 7th 17.7%, 19th / 86.7%, 3rd

WHAT THE STATS SAY:

Logic would dictate that this should be a low scoring affair, but there's nothing logical about these two teams. Nevertheless, the Canadiens are out a sniper and the Bruins simply don't score, so you gotta think this goes to a shootout. Halak will start for the Canadiens, but there is no word on the Bruins goaltender.

Even though he isn't having his best year, Zdeno Chara is the key to a Canadiens victory tonight. He shoots more than any other bruin, has the most assists and can still score. Not to mention he's big, mean, and a great defensive player. If the Canadiens checking line and defenders can shut Chara down, capitalize on an odd man rush or powerplay opportunity, all the while receiving the usual key goaltending from Halak, they have this game in the bag.

FINAL PREDICTIO: Habs 2 - Bruins 1 (SO)

ADDITIONAL READING:

- Steve Kerley on the Bruins at Habs Inside/Out.

- Habs Fever - Decision time for Bob Gainey by Brian Wilde of CTV sports in Montreal.

- Good piece on Guy Boucher by TCL member Kyle Roussel. Seems like everywhere I turn there's a new article on Boucher.

One final note, our thoughts go out to Ryan O'Byrne, who lost his mother only days ago to cancer. O'Byrne took a leave of absence to be with his mother a few weeks ago, but like the trouper that he is, he will play tonight and through the rest of February's game, before visiting his family over the Olympic break. You gotta love his kid more and more with every passing day. He truly has a passion for the sport, and the desire to improve. He had his best game on Tuesday, and I hope he can exceed that again tonight and in the future.

Halak in goal, Spacek returns tonight, as the Canadiens visit the Bruins!

Enjoy the game,

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