They’re playing their best hockey of late, so when the Boston Bruins come to town, it’ll be a huge test for the Canadiens; just working their way out of a slump. Regardless of previous games, however, one would expect the Habs to be up for a contest against their arch-rivals from Massachusetts. The Bruins, led by Joe Thornton, one of the best forwards in hockey, will be out to put the hurt on the Habs, but he’s not the only weapon they’ve got.
Here then, are some things to consider leading into the afternoon affair:
The Bruins have six players over 10 goals already this season. Their first two lines can be considered one of the best one-two punches in the game. With names like Thornton, Glen Murray, Sergei Samsonov, Patrice Bergeron, and Brian Rolston, this is a team that continues to attack in waves. And Rolston isn’t even in those top two lines, he’s the checking line centre, tied for second on the team with 14 tallies.
Not only are the Bruins blessed with stunning rookie Bergeron, but they’re backstopped by another rookie of the year candidate, Andrew Raycroft. His sub-2.00 goals against average and .928 save percentage have the Bruins thinking they might actually make it somewhere in the playoffs, rather than getting whipped because of sub-par goaltending. As the trade deadline approaches, this is one area the Bruins won’t be looking to improve.
The biggest weakness on this Boston club is the defence which, while big, is somewhat slow. If there’s one thing the Habs will have to do, it’s attack with speed and force the Molasses Men into making mistakes. Nick Boynton and Jeff Jillson are the exceptions here, and two rearguards that have to be watched closely. Both can turn the play the other way quickly, and both have the vision to make things happen immediately.
Boston is 17th on the powerplay and 21st on the penalty kill – hardly impressive numbers. For a team with so many weapons, it’s hard, at first glance, to figure why they’d be so low with the man advantage, but digging a little deeper, it seems they probably don’t have the quality quarterback to run the plays. And while the penalty kill isn’t ranked very high, one has to always be wary of Rolston and his boys turning the play up ice to score a shorthanded marker.
Coach Mike Sullivan is probably not one you’d expect as a leader of such a high-profile club. Indeed, ask a few Bruins fans and they’ll tell you they were seriously questioning his place when the Bruins were going through a horrid slump after a stunning start to the year. Credit where credit is due, however, as Sullivan seems to have regained his troops and has them playing some solid hockey.
As noted earlier in the season by Habs coach Claude Julien, this Boston team is anything but small. The first line is enormous and will be a challenge for whoever gets the assignment – presumably Joe Juneau. The key to beating them is maintaining possession yourself, however if you don’t have the puck, only spot-on positioning will keep you from being brutalized.
Their last 10 games have them at 6-3-1, a very good winning percentage. This is a confident Bruin club and as such, it’ll be important for the Habs to take control of the game early on as much as possible. If the Bruins do go in front, while they’re not a trapping team, they can shut you down effectively.
Of course, not only are two points up for grabs in the standings, but also, for the Habs, the chance to come within one point of the Big Bad Bruins, and that would be considered quite an accomplishment. Few expected the Habs to challenge for a playoff spot, let alone contend with Boston for position in the standings. It’s a testament to the coaching and management staff that they find themselves at this point today.
Expect a physical affair, and since Steve Begin is back, expect the Habs to even be initiators at times. Expect to leave your seat more than a few times to yell, or cheer, or complain, or scream at your radio/TV. Most of all, expect that you’ll enjoy yet another in probably one of the two best rivalries in pro hockey.