Return of Gameday! Habs @ Bruins

What?? NHL hockey is back? And we're kicking it off with the NHL's most storied rivalry?

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It seems like it's been forever since the Montreal Canadiens took the ice. Frankly, I'm fairly certain a lot of Habs fans would like to forget their final outings before the break, a home-and-away series with the Philadelphia Flyers that ended disastrously. Not only did the Canadiens lose both games (a 3-2 loss at Philly on Friday and an embarrassing 6-2 loss at home the next night), but they fell two spots down the standings in the process, handing over the #6 seed to the Flyers and falling behind the Bruins. They now find themselves in 8th place, with 64 points in 63 games, and with most of the teams around them with multiple games in hand.

Ya, I guess record-breaking Olympic Gold kind of took our minds off of that little factoid.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens are (somewhat) healthy and ready to see where the stretch run of the season takes them. with 19 games left, many against their immediate rivals in the standings, the Habs cannot afford to look behind them. They must look ahead to a 4-game road trip which starts tonight against the Boston Bruins.

They must take solace in the fact that Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn, the latter of whom has missed every game in 2010 including the Olympics, will return to the Canadiens line-up tonight and provide a much needed boost to the offense. Close behind them are Marc-André Bergeron and Mike Cammalleri, who will be returning by mid-March. Neither made the 4-game road trip.

They must take solace in the fact that Andrei Markov is healthy and ready to go after missing the last two games of pre-Olympic Break. Markov caused somewhat of a stir when he played in Russia's first game and logged 20 minutes of ice-time, despite missing important games with the Canadiens. Nevertheless, that is now behind him and the team, and looking to make up for Russia's failures in Vancouver, he'll definitely be pumped to perform for the Habs.

Habs fans can also be happy with the performance of Jaroslav Halak at these games. Leading Slovakia to an outstanding 4th place finish in the Olympic Tournament, Halak and his country surprised many who didn't give them a thought going into the tournament. Halak won't be playing tonight, having only met up with the team after today's morning skate. He will be on the bench as Carey Price faces the Bruins.

The rest of the line-up will be anybody's guess tonight. While Halak was the only player in the medal round, there is going to be some kinks to work out with a two week layoff for most of these players. The lines at practice the other day were as follows:

A. Kostitsyn-Plekanec-S. Kostitsyn
Pouliot-Gomez-Gionta
Moen-Moore-Lapierre
Darche-Metropolit-D'Agostini

Tom Pyatt was called up as the extra forward on this road trip.

On defence:

Markov-O'Byrne
Hamrlik-Spacek
Gill-Gorges.

Extra D: Mara.

Patrice Bergeron, who ''played'' (not much) in the gold medal game for Canada, will sit this one out. Tim Thomas, who was the only American player with a smile on his face when handed a Silver medal on Sunday, will continue doing what he's best at, and that's sitting on the bench while Tuuka Rask faces the Canadiens.

The winner of tonight's game will take temporary possession of 7th place in the east.

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There will be plenty of trade deadline coverage on TCL tomorrow. We will be holding a live, all-day chat which will include most of your favorite TCL bloggers. The chat will also be set up with Twitter to provide the feeds of all the reliable sources. Moreover, we'll be taking all your questions and encouraging discussion, comments and analysis from both our bloggers and readers. Moreover, all the major trades will be posted on TCL, with deeper analysis coming from our bloggers later in the day once the dust has settled.

It will definitely be something to check out. Set a reminder for yourself and the chat at the link above, or at the bottom of this blog. I will also be providing commentary at Hockey Independent's trade chat, so keep an eye on that as well.

But for now, a quick look at what the Canadiens might or might not do before 3PM tomorrow.

Will Pierre Gauthier make one or multiple trades? His history as a general manager would suggest that he would. But with only a few weeks under his cap as Habs GM, and the uncertain state of the team going into the future, Gauthier is likely to remain with the status quo.

The team is nearly healthy going into tonight's game, and will receive a bigger boost when Habs MVP candidate Mike Cammalleri returns later this month. A healthy Canadiens group with good goaltending means they'll be competitive when it comes to those final playoff spots down the stretch. Going into selling mode or looking for a big trade might not be a good mood for Gauthier.

A depth player or a rental might be in the future of the Canadiens, but don't expect anything major from Gauthier, especially with the lack of depth on the trading block at the moment. By the same token, anticipate a move, as minor as might end up being, just for the sake of saying that he made a trade.

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We will definitely have more on the Canadiens and their potential moves tomorrow as part of our deadline coverage. For now, there is a game to enjoy, and if history has taught us anything, it has a good chance of being a classic.

Puck drops at 7PM.

Enjoy the game!

Prax
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