After posting points in six of their last seven games, climbing one game above five hundred, and sliding safely into the East’s eighth playoff spot, a pair of all too familiar faces will return to the Habs’ lineup tonight. Donald Audette and Joe Juneau are off the injured list and will be back in the swing of things when the Habs take on the Panthers tonight.
However, while Juneau’s on-ice intelligence and defensive abilities will be gladly welcomed back, his return came coupled with a huge blow. Steve Begin, who some may argue was the engine that made the Habs work, will miss tonight’s game due to a left shoulder injury he sustained in New York. Always hustling, Begin payed the price and, despite requesting that he play tonight, will see this game from the comfortable stands at the Office Depot Center.
Audette, meanwhile, will play tonight with Yanic Perreault, who has been held scoreless for over 3 weeks, and Chad Kilger. Darren Langdon, the teams’ penalty minute leader, will be the man giving way to Audette. It is a questionable move by coach Claude Julien, that’s for sure. One must wonder why Julien would break up what has been, for the most part, an extremely succesful four lines. However, with Florida toughguy Darcy Hordichuk nursing an injury, the need for an enforcer such as Langdon is somewhat lessened. One thing’s for sure, though. There’ll be absolutely no complaining from Mr. Langdon, who’s class is just as evident as his toughness and willingness to defend his fellows Habs.
If the loss of Begin doesn’t make Montreal fans wince, than losing the increasinly reliable and constantly improving Patrice Brisebois will. Brisebois, who is re-establishing himself as a top-three defenceman in the NHL, was the unfortunate recipient of a groin injury and will miss the team’s next two games. His loss is unfortunate, but will give Mike Komisarek an oppurtunity to shine. Komisarek was a healthy scratch to make way for Stephane Quintal’s return vs. the Rangers on Wednesday, but he will return, most likely on a pairing with Sheldon Souray.
One glance at tonight’s starting goaltenders should give you a smile wider than Ed Belfour’s fivehole. Jose Theodore, coming off of a stellar 29-save performance against the Rags, will play for the Habs, while provincial rival Roberto Luongo, who allowed just one goal between the two teams in a November 29th 1-1 tie in Montreal, will man the crease for the Cats. Luongo’s .930 SV% sits him in a tie for third amongst goalies who have played more than 10 games, and not far behind him is Theodore, with a .922 mark.
Former Canadien, Valeri Bure has regained his scoring touch it seems. The ‘other’ Pocket Rocket has himself tied for the lead in points with teammate Vikor Kozlov. Kozlov is a big man, but he’ll look even bigger to the line of Joe Juneau, Andreas Dackell and Niklas Sundstrom. The trio will most likely be matched up against the 6’5 Kozlov, who’s goal against the Habs in their last meeting helped the Cats preserve the 1-1 tie. Without a win in their past six, maybe it would be a wise decision for Rick Dudley, the Florida coach, to reinsert Kristian Huselius into his lineup? The Swedish winger, who possesses exceptional skills, has been a healthy scratch for his team’s last two games played.
Fans who are big on young talent will get another treat tonight. Along with Komisarek for the Habs, and of course Jay Bouwmeester for Florida, Lukas Krajicek will also be skating his way onto the Panthers blueline. The former first round draft choice (24th overall) was recalled from San Antonio of the AHL. Staying with Florida, the team has five roster players out with injury. Branislav Mezei (eye), Eric Messier (wrist), Filip Novak (ankle), Kristian Kudroc (ankle), and Hordichuk (hand) are all current members of the infirmary.
Catch the game at 7:30 ET on Rogers Sportsnet East, and RDS. Also, don’t be afraid to come on over to the Habsworld Forum to discuss the game.