The Florida Panthers will travel to Montreal, with their parkas in hand, and in doing so will look to rain on Jose Theodore’s parade. The Habs’ netminder will be manning the crease on Saturday night after a much needed rest in Washington, which saw the Habs sprawl to just one game above .500. Theodore will look to lead the team back into .500 territory, but the story is deeper for #60. Tied with Martin Brodeur and Kevin Weekes for first in the shutout category with four, Theodore will be looking to become the 11th goaltender in Montreal history to record his 100th victory. Meanwhile, Stephen Weiss and the rest of the Panthers, who currently sit one point behind the CH with 21, will have Roberto Luongo back between the pipes. Luongo, too, was given a night off as his backup Steve Shields fell to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
Pierre Dagenais, the third star in Friday night’s game after recording two points, will most likely be in the line-up to take on the team that cut him loose this past summer. Dagenais’ 1st goal of the year came from his new linemate, Mike Ribeiro. The duo were superstars during their days in the QMJHL, and are hoping to rework their magic. Ribeiro’s assist was his eighth in nine games, and he continues to hold onto the club’s points lead. Captain Saku Koivu, who notched two assists in the game, seems to be returning to full form and will again look to linemates Mike Ryder and Richard Zednik for offensive support.
For the Panthers, former Canadien Val Bure has 16 points through his first 15 games, and youngster Stephen Weiss has eight points in his previous five contests. Weiss’ two goals in Friday nights loss to Buffalo give him five in his past five games. Along with Viktor Kozlov, Olli Jokinen, and Kristian Huselius, the Cats’ well balanced attack should be of concern to Montreal Coach Claude Julien. Since both teams are coming off of games less than 24 hours earlier, fatigue should be a large factor in tonight’s game.
After announcing that veteran Stephane Quintal will be back in the lineup, it is still unknown he will be replacing. There were whispers out of Montreal this morning that one should not rule out the possibility of seeing Craig Rivet skating as a forward tonight. An interesting possibility, though one that would most likely solidify the scratching of Chad Kilger for another night. Mike Komisarek played his first game of the year for the CH, and logged a little over 13 minutes of ice time. Skating alongside Sheldon Souray, the two 6’4″ defenders should be a good bet to play alongside eachother once again.
The 223 pound Souray, who leads the entire NHL in goals by defencemen with eight, holds a two-goal lead over a group of four, one of which includes the Panthers’ 24-year-old mobile, puck moving defenceman Mike Van Ryn. Van Ryn, with six goals and 12 points, has already surpassed his career highs in both areas. After being acquired for his current teammate ,Val Bure, from the St. Louis Blues at last year’s trade deadline, the London, Ontario native is part of an extremely talented Florida defence, along with Jay Bouwmeester.
Nathan Horton, last year’s 3rd overall pick at the Entry Draft, is tied for 15th in rookie scoring with seven points. One of the young men he is chasing, the Habs’ Mike Ryder, is tied for fifth with 11 points so far. The 6’3″ Horton has two points in his past nine games, but should be a tough task for whomever he is matched against.
On the injury front, Donald Audette (shoulder) and Jason Ward (ankle) are still out for lengthy periods of time for Montreal, while the Panthers’ list is much longer. Florida will be without Branislav Mezei (eye), Eric Messier (wrist), Matt Cullen (groin), Byron Ritchie (knee), Darcy Hordichuk (foot), and Filip Novak (ankle).
Ritchie is the only Panther player under 6’0″, and he is out of the lineup. The smaller Habs will have to hope that the size of their opponents does not lead to an unfortunate result.