It is known throughout the league that the first game back after a road trip is a challenge. Tonight, the Habs will be looking to test that theory as they return home to the Bell Centre in preparation to face the Vancouver Canucks (12-6-2-2). After a blistering hot start, the ‘Nucks have stuggled of late, losing two games in a row to the Maple Leafs, and have gone winless in their past five games away from home. The CH, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 win in the NHL’s first ever outdoor game. The team was badly outshot by their opposition, but Jose Theodore was there when needed.
The Habs have been making headlines, too, of late. General Manager Bob Gainey recalled blue-chip prospect Mike Komisarek and the AHL’s second leading scorer, Pierre Dagenais on Monday in an attempt to add size and fire power to the line-up. While it can be argued that neither Ron Hainsey or Marcel Hossa, the players demoted to make room for Komisarek and Dagenais, deserved to be sent to Hamilton, it’s a move that will hopefully pay off.
The two teams last met on November 18th in Vancouver, and fans saw the home team skate off the ice victorious. Richard Zednik scored twice in that game, and will again look to contribute on the scoresheet, where he is most needed. The sturdy Slovak has 4 goals in his last 3 games. Also riding hot streaks are Montreal’s Mike Ribeiro, who has five points, all of which are assists, in his last five games.
With Donald Audette out for up to a month with a shoulder injury, it is a good bet to see Pierre Dagenais in the lineup for the Habs. The 6’5″ Dagenais will suit up with his former linemate in junior, Mike Ribeiro and Yanic Perreault. Mike Komisarek will not be in the line-up for the Habs according to RDS, instead fans will see Stephane Quintal, Craig Rivet, and Patrice Brisebois. As for the forwards, look for the Habs’ top line of Zednik, Saku Koivu, and young Mike Ryder to stay intact, as well as the checking line of Jan Bulis, Joe Juneau, and Andreas Dackell. Jose Theodore is expected to start, but it is not yet determined. As for the opposition, look for Dan Cloutier to man the crease after Johan Hedberg played on Monday.
The toughest job of the night will most likely fall to the Juneau line, who will see plenty of ice time matched up against the Canuck’s number one trio of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and Todd Bertuzzi. Sheldon Souray and company will also need to be alert, and some offensive production from the blueline would be nice. Ed Jovanovski and Matthias Ohlund combined to score three times last week versus the Habs, and in order for Montreal to compete everyone has to be firing on all cylinders. That is especially true for Saku Koivu, who has mustered only six shots in eight games for the Habs. The Canadiens captain was held scoreless in Edmonton, despite a strong game.
Note: Tonight is Vintage Night in Montreal. The two teams will wear their retro jerseys to celebrate their pasts. Montreal is winless in their last seven meeting with the Canucks.