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Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Close the Igloo - Sidney has left the building"

Sweeter words have never been spoken, as the ones uttered by Bob Cole last May 12th.

As the journey came full circle for Mellon Arena (formally the Civic Arena), which was in desperate need of closing its doors; the Montreal Canadiens made sure that they closed the doors much in the same way they opened them on September 19th, 1961. With a win!

Victory bookends, so to speak.

And tonight begins a new era of the hockey rivalry between the Penguins and the Canadiens, that is no doubt a touch more bitter moving into the future.

The new Consol Energy Center, has already given the Pens their first loss, as they opened the season at home to the 2009-2010 Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers. So you can be sure that as Cammalleri steps onto the ice tonight for his first game of the season, "Sid" et al will be looking to avenge how quickly the Canadiens sniper and his crew sent them home last year.

But in order to do that, there will be a few changes happening to the line-up tonight.

To begin with, Michael Cammalleri is back and ready to get his season under way. After serving his one game suspension in the press box during their loss against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night, he will be anxious to get some ice time - and to produce. No doubt that leaves the rest of the top lines to be shuffled, mostly meaning Lars Eller who showed great skill, grit, and determination in the season opener. Matthew Darche has also been named as a healthy scratch for this evening as he becomes the odd man out with Cammy's return.

We still await the return of Roman Hamrlik, which will not be tonight (as confirmed by Martin after the morning skate today). The estimated timeline for him is Game 3 on Wednesday versus Tampa. Not the best news - but better Wednesday than later on. It became very apparent on Thursday night during the opener, that defense continues to be the largest struggle for the Habs.

With Markov out (still indefinitely), and Hamrlik sidelined, the pressure has been put squarely on the likes of PK Subban, Georges, Gill, and Spacek. And despite his incredible play in last years playoff run, Subban is showing more of the rookie side to his game lately, than he has in the past. That's to be expected! He's new, he's young, and that's what young guys do. But he has that urge to learn and soak up from the veterans. So the return of Hamrlik and Markov becomes even more important as we move forward. Tonight there will be a "special interest" for Subban as he faces off against his Belleville Bulls ex-teammate, Eric Tangradi.

Where the difference has to be seen immediately, is in Spacek. There seems to be a slowness and lumbering quality to his play that needs a pick-me-up. His lack of energy, and mental mistakes leading to turnovers, have been instrumental in opposition scoring opportunities, and goals. So we turn to Goerges and Gill to step it up, until the core defensive team returns complete to the ice.

But not all the questions lie in the Canadiens camp. Pittsburgh has seen some off-season changes as well. Specifically in the loss of Sergei Gonchar to the Ottawa Senators, and the sidelining of injured center Jordan Staal. Both of those players were instrumental in going 14 games deep into the playoffs last year - and clearly, Gonchar's howitzer point shot was missed in their first game of the year.

That being said, tonight should be a fiery game with fast paced action, and lots of intensity. Pittsburgh has something to prove, and Montreal has a stance to hold. This looks like a fresh new rivalry that will certainly last all season.

So let's walk into this "New Igloo" tonight and pick up where we left off. Let's give it a good ol' Montreal christening.

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