After a long break this early in the season, it begs the question of whether the Montreal Canadiens will be ready for the puck drop tonight. After a mere 5 games, the Habs were put to rest for an unprecedented 4 days off. Coming off of two solid wins against the Sabres and the Senators, it will be up to Captain Brian Gionta, and the rest of the leadership team, to spark a flame of motivation within the ranks tonight.
This is a sort of homecoming for Martin Brodeur as the New Jersey Devils look to improve their poor start to the season. Sitting in the leagues basement with only 3 points from 6 starts, there should be plenty of fuel to get the Devils grinding. Ilya Kovalchuk has a lot to prove with the Mega contract that he was awarded in the off season, and Zach Parise is probably on the verge of having another break out year. Add in the remaining team-mates that are undoubtedly annoyed at their results thus far; tonight should be a scrappy game.
Carey Price will be looking to continue his winning ways - especially against Brodeur, who seems to thrive playing in Montreal. The Jersey netminder has no qualms about letting the fans know that Le Centre Bell is his favourite "away" barn, and he's had much success here. Add that up with his 1-4 start to the season with a GAA of 3.18 and a SV% of .887, and it's clear that losing is not an option in Martin's mind.
But Price has been on fire this year. Despite an off preseason, things seem to have turned around for the Habs #1 goalkeeper. Showing a 3-1-1 record on 5 starts doesn't justify the play of Price to this point in the season. In both losses, Price has been the factor that kept the team in both games. And with three wins, he has posted a solid 2.57 GAA and .914 SV%. Certainly numbers that have gotten the fans attention, and I'm quite sure the Devils organization has been discussing them while pouring over video in preparation for tonight's match-up.
Of most worthy discussion heading in to this evening, is what Jacques Martin has been working on in their 4 days off to improve the Power Play, and his 4th change to the Gionta / Gomez line.
During practices in Brossard, JM seems to feel that there is yet another player that needs to be given the opportunity on the second line. Having already played Pouliot, Moen, and Darche on the line with the two ex-Devils hot shots, the head coach looks to Tom Pyatt tonight as a new piece to the puzzle. There seems to be a concern with the overall production of the line that collects the most cash from the front office on a regular basis. With huge contract shoes to fill, the highly paid Gomez, and newly appointed Captain have amassed a total of only 2 goals and 2 assists. Hardly acceptable numbers.
But messing with the chemistry of this line is what's hurting it most, in my opinion. Clearly Gomez and Gionta know each other perfectly as line mates. They are strong together, and just have to make a few adjustments as they roll along. Getting to the net being one of those adjustments. With 18 shots on goal this year for Gionta, there have been many a juicy rebound begging to be potted into the back of the net. So a solid, large, go to the net kind of forward would compliment them to perfection.
Enter Lars Eller please. He showed that ability in the preseason games and would be happy to continue showing it on the second line in the regular season as well. I've been saying since the first puck dropped in the preseason, that Pouliot is not a top six forward. He doesn't even show the potential for it right now. And Pyatt is not ready for that role either. I wasn't even convinced that he had a role in the big leagues this year. But Eller likes the net. Likes to shoot at it. And he likes to park himself there and get dirty. So enough of the chemistry lab tryouts with every player BUT Eller. Give him a shot and I think we'll all be happy with the results.
The Power Play struggle has been intense for the Habs this season, so there will be one notable change this evening to the D. Hamrlik will skate alongside Subban, hopefully bringing a more solid partnership than PK had with Spacek. As far as the forward line goes, no changes as Plekanec and company will be out there anchoring the special teams play.
So it should be an eventful night. It should also be a scrappy night. Lapierre will be happy. Looking on the bright side, if the Pyatt experiment goes terribly wrong, maybe it leaves Jacques Martin no other option but to make the attempt with Eller for Saturday night in Ottawa.
Then again, maybe he'll call up Max Pacioretty or Andrew Conboy first!