It's here! The home opener. We get to welcome home our boys as they play the Tampa Bay Lightning at le Centre Bell in Montreal.
No big changes are expected for tonight. No adjustments to the 4 forward lines. But the anticipated return of Roman Hamrlik to the defensive unit happens, and that's something to celebrate. With a defensive core that has lacked a bit of "get up and go", perhaps the addition of Hamrlik to the team can shake things up a bit. Not that we can expect a "full on" 25 minute outing from our veteran, but his presence should help in solidifying our defensive capabilities.That means the omission of Picard from tonight's line-up and the addition of O'Byrne, as he gets paired up with Hall Gill.
Once again - we leave the decision making to J Martin, and will only know for sure if he was correct, after 60 minutes of hockey.
Fresh off of a two day rest, and more importantly, a win against the Penguins - this team should be ready for what the Lightening have to throw at them.
There is no doubt that the Lightning have improved themselves over the off-season, and will most likely be contenders in the playoff race this year. With the additions of Stamkos and Gagne over the summer, Tampa brings more size, speed, and toughness to the team that was - only a year ago - wondering if they could maintain a fan base, not to mention their Captain: Vincent LeCalvalier. After a decisive victory at home on Saturday against the Thrashers (in which Stamkos accumulated 2 goals and an assist), look for a team that will be hungry to go after a 2-0 to start to the season.
The Habs; however, are coming off a huge win against the Pens Saturday night as well. Doing what they do best, and walking into the New Igloo for the first time, the Canadiens potted 2 goals in 24 seconds of the third period, to gain a come from behind victory. Not the prettiest offensive game to watch, but certainly a flicker of hope as Carey Price turned away 36 of 38 shots in a well deserved victory.
Tonight's questions surround the ability of the offense lines to move their way in front of Dan Ellis, creating traffic and havoc for the newly acquired Lightning goaltender. This will be the first start for Ellis - who was acquired from the Canadiens in the off-season. Ellis came over to Montreal on a trade that saw himself and Dustin Boyd moved to the Montreal franchise from Nashville, in return for Sergei Kostitsyn. However, without a deal in place before the July 1st deadline - he became an unrestricted free agent, and was subsequently picked up by Tampa.
So tonight will be yet another good test for La Flanelle. With some solid growth and adjustments over the past two matches, I have a feeling that tonight's going to be a good night.
Keys to Victory:
Get shots on net. Forget about incessant cycling. I know on a team that is smaller in size - speed and puck movement are important. But that doesn't mean neglecting to put the puck where it belongs - on goal. Just ask Scotty Gomez.
Create more traffic. Guys like Lapierre, Pouliot, Eller, and Boyd need to be parked in front of Ellis. Considering Ellis only had 31 starts last season - if he can be rattled early, it will pay off dividends.
The Power Play v Penalty Kill. Stop taking stupid penalties. Seven opps for Pittsburgh last Saturday could have come back to haunt us. And with a PP that has generated next to nothing for the team this year, it's time to align Gomez as a forward (to gain and keep the zone) with the likes of Subban (to take the crucial point shots). By the way - did I mention TRAFFIC?
Defense. Play like it was the playoffs. Never in my life have I been so proud as I was during the post-season last year. Gorges backchecking, and Gill blocking shots. Subban moving the puck. It's time to intensify the defensive game. Carey will make the saves - the defense just has to limit turnovers and Shots On Goal.
So there it is. A night we've all been waiting for, and a great opportunity to gain our second win of the season. There is really only one other thing to be said ....
Go Habs Go!!!