Habs look to avoid Centennial Hangover against struggling Flyers

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I know when to eat my words.

Admiteddly, last week's Centennial Game Blog was very negative. While I was certain that the ceremony before the game would be something to remember, I didn't have too great a feeling going into Friday's game against the Bruins. History has shown us that the Habs don't play too well on nights of ceremonies or jersey retirements. Maybe it's the added pressure of playing under the watchful eye of Habs legends, maybe it's the delay of the ceremonies itself, I don't know, but ever since these centennial celebrations began several years ago, the Canadiens have been constantly embarrassed by opposing teams.

I didn't expect Friday night to be any different. 65 Habs greats and not-so-greats (no offense, Lyle Odelein) took the ice on Friday evening. Some were wearing skates and took part in a memorable pre-game skate, with Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy taking shots in almost-full uniforms (Dryden opted to leave his helmet on the net and wear his glasses instead), from great Habs from the past such as Guy Carbonneau, Vincent Damphousse, GM Bob Gainey, former GM Rejean Houle, and many others.

A lot of players were given formal introductions with lists of their accomplishments. Gainey, Carbo and others who took the warm-up wobbled onto the ice on their skates, sometimes unsure of where to stand. Others, such as Henri Richard, graciously walked out in their Habs jerseys and suits underneath. Others were just introduced by name. A couple were given the honor of being introduced by their peers, with Patrick Roy, Guy Lafleur and Jean Beliveau all giving speeches. And let's not forget Viggo Mortensen of Lord of the Rings fame and Gordie Howe making the trip to honor Guy Lafleur and Jean Beliveau, respectively, two more memorable parts of the evening.

Sprinkle in a couple of video packages and an enormous team photo of past and present Habs, which will no doubt be plastered somewhere in the Bell Centre in no time, and you have a ceremony that only the Canadiens could pull off.

Let's not forget, of course, the emotional retiring of Emile ''Butch'' Bouchard's #3 and Elmer Lach's #16 jerseys. Assisted by the unnoficial captain, Andrei Markov, as well as the last player who will ever wear the #3, Ryan O'Byrne, #3 and #16 (although it was already retired in 1095 for Henri Richard), took their rightful place in the rafters of the Bell Centre along with 12 other Habs' greats and 24 Stanley Cup banner.

Obviously, very few people in the arena probably ever saw Butch and Lach play, but if you're a fan of the Habs or simply a fan of hockey, you can't help but find that to be the highlight of the night.

I'm not going to go through a list of my favorite moments in the ceremony, because the whole thing was simply awesome, incredibly emotional and perfectly done. I had no doubt going in that it would be a night to remember, despite having the bad feeling that it would be remembered for all the wrong reasons when the puck finally dropped shortly after 8PM. But as a Habs fan, a hockey fan, and especially a Montrealer, I'm proud to say that Friday night's festivities will forever remain in my memories.

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A VERY IMPORTANT GAME

Mix the bad thoughts going into the game wih the bad turn this season has already taken for the Habs, and you had all the making for an explosive situation. I was fully expecting this team to buckle under the pressure of the ceremonies and have an outing against the Bruins most of us would rather forget­.

Instead, I sit here, Monday morning, after a 5-1 win, removing the foot from my mouth. And I couldn't be happier about it.

The 2009-10 edition of the Habs went into that building with a mission to show the All-Star line-up of Habs greats that were in attendance that they were worthy of being in the same team photo with them, and they delivered. Carey Price and Mike Cammalleri delivered all-star performances, with Price making several dazzling saves to keep the Canadiens in the game early. Cammalleri sealed the deal with his second Hat Trick of the season. Equally as important, Josh Gorges and Hal Gill were heroic on the ice for the Canadiens on the penalty kill, especially during a full 2 minute powerplay that the Bruins drew.

In the end, the shutout that Price deserved was spoiled by a Vladamir Sobotka goal in the 3rd period, but the statement was made. This is a group of players that wants to win, and wants to be remembered in ceremonies 10, 15, 20 years from now. They want to be amongst the players who's names are introduced, who's accomplishments are listed as they stroll onto the ice.

And that's a far cry from the disaster of a team that played it's way to a first round playoff sweep last year. This group may not be the best hockey team ever put together, but they are winners, and they are players who want to win.

The only question that remains, can they keep it up? As Ken Dryden so perfectly put it Friday night,"the next 100 years is a long time," said Dryden. It's up to this team now to write its own story. And why not write a great one?"

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STILL A TOUGH ROAD AHEAD

With the Centennial celebrations pretty much behind them (save the Hall of Fame opening next month and a few more heritaje jersey nights), the Canadiens can finally stop looking into the past, and they can finally start looking ahead.

At the forefront of this new beginning is the 14 games that remain on the schedule. It begins this week with a tough 4-game schedule. Back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow against the Flyers and Senators, respectively, followed by Pittsburgh on thursday and on the road against the Thrashers Saturday night.

This is obviously a situation that the Canadiens need to take one game at a time. Some games will be more difficult than others, and it's almost impossible to expect the Canadiens to come out of December with winning record. There are 3 back-to-back situations left, 10 games on the road (including a 7 game road trip over the holidays, which is never fun), and very few gimme games.

But today, all the Habs have to think about is the Philadelphia Flyers. Tonight will be the first meeting between the two clubs, and before the season started, no one would have expected the Habs and Flyers to be facing each other under the circumstances they're currently in.

While it may be less surprising that the Habs sit in 11th place in the East, with all their injuries and shortcomings, incredibly, the Fleyrs are actually a point behind the Habs, in 12th place. Losers of their last 4 and 3 and 7 in their last 10, the Flyers are nowhere near the powerhouse many expected them to be when the season started. I'll leave the analysis to our incredible Flyers blogger, Dustin Leed, but needless to say, while the Flyers can't be as bad as a 12th place team (only 3 points out of the playoffs, for the record), there certainly is a problem in Philly, with Peter Laviolette replacing John Stevens Friday evening, and with rumors of a captaincy controversy between Chris Pronger and Mike Richards looming.

The Flyers got their asses handed to them by the Ovechkin-less Washinton Capitals on saturday night, losing 8-2 thanks to a 5 point performance from Niklas Backstrom and a 4 point performance from Mike Green, so you can bet that Laviolette is anything but happy on this Monday morning. He'll be looking for a better performance on his team, and his team will be looking to take out their frustrations on the Canadiens tonight.

The Habs have to reply quickly. They have to have a fast start, get the first goal and stay on the offensive if they want to win tonight. Hopefully, they won't show any evidence of a Centennial hangover.

Too early for line-ups and injury notes, as the Habs usually take the ice after 11, but I will update once the reports start coming in. Only things to note coming out of the weekend

- Habs Inside/Out reported this weekend that Ryan White was returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs after being a healthy scratch Friday night. He played well, but produced little and became more and more invisible as the games went on, despite eventually playing with Scott Gomez earlier last week.

- Sergei Kostitsyn had a couple therapy days this weekend after landing awkwardly on Friday, but will play tonight.

- Price is goal tonight (no surprise).

- Benoi Pouliot is practicing but is still a little far off from a return. Look for him this weekend to potentially play his first game as a hab. He is still looking to regain some strength in his injured wrist.

- Andrei Markov continues to skate, but there is still no official timetable for his return. Look for him in early January.

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STATS

-- HABS SABRES
Goals: Cammalleri (15) Richards (11)
Assists: Plekanec (20) Carter/Pronger(14)
Points: Plekanec (26) Carter (23)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+9) Carle (+13)
Time on Ice: Hamrlik (24:43 per game) Pronger (26:18 per game)
PIMs: Mara(44) Carcillo (87)
Shots: Cammalleri(102) Carter (116)
SVP: Price (.913) Boucher (.912)
GAA: Price (2.77) Boucher (2.52)
Wins: Price (8 ) Emery (11)
Injuries: Markov (ankle, end of december)
Gionta (foot, week-to-week)
Pouliot (wrist, day-to-day)
Rathje (hip/back, done)
Gagné (hernia, end of December)
Tollefsen (concussion, indefinitely)
Powe (shoulder, end of December)
Betts (Shoulder, end of December)
Carcillo (suspended, 4 games)
Last 10: 4-4-2 3-7-0
Standings: 13-14-2, 11th, 28 points 13-12-1, 12th, 27 points
GF/GA: 73GF, 29th / 86GA, 18th 79GF, 10th / 76GA, 17th
PP/PK %: 16.3%, 25th / 81.2%, 13th 22.6%, 5th / 78.3%, 24th



LINKS:

- Canadiens legends hit ice at 100th party on CBC.

- Hockey Independent's Steve Hindle on Centennial Ceremonies, including youtube videos.

- Fred Poulin at Hockey Independent - Could Plekanec be suspended?

- RDS game story.

- Hamilton Bulldogs weekly recap by Ian Russell at HabsWorld.net. He picks Trotter, Desharnais and Glumac as his three stars for November. Will any of them get a shot with the Habs in December?

- Habs this week at Canadiens.com.

- Habs Centennial Dream Team at Habs Eye on the Price.

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FINAL PREDICTION: It's not going to be as easy as the Flyers' record suggest, but I don't think the Habs will suffer a Centennial Hangover... 4-3 Habs in a shootout.

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

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