There are not many men currently roaming NHL backlines who can say they’ve been more impressive than Sheldon Souray this season. Tonight, however, is the night when big, bad Sheldon is due to meet his match. Currently larger than life throughout the NHL, and fresh off of a record-setting 6 point performance, it appears the Habs’ big, bruising #44 will have to be up to the task of outdueling yet another big time blueliner, as the Chris Pronger train, fresh off of a 3 point game on Monday, comes a rollin’ on into Montreal tonight (7:30, RDS, RSO East, CJAD).
The Pronger-Souray matchup is one to keep and eye on all night long, but if Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk continue their dominance in Montreal, the Habs’ resident all star may have his hands too full to concentrate on any sort of competition with the pounding Pronger. Despite being held pointless in his past four contests, Tkachuk is averaging a point a game in his career against the CH, with 6 of his 16 points being goals. Doug Weight, who is having a huge campaign so far with 39 points (9-30) in 35 games, has enjoyed just as much success when taking on the Habs. The 32-year-old pivot has recorded 26 points in just 23 matches with Montreal; although, I don’t really think he’s ever been properly introduced to Sheldon Souray.
If the Blues potent offence, which also includes the likes of Pavol Demitra, Scott Mellanby, and stud defenceman Christian Laflamme (okay, okay – it was a joke!) doesn’t somehow strike fear into the hearts of the Habs, how does Mathieu Garon feel about it? The Canadiens backup is to be given his first start since December 23rd, a game in which the team dropped to the Washington Capitals in the dying minutes. Luckily for Garon, the Blues will be without Mr. Slapshot himself, Al Macinnis. The 40-year-old may not look all that young, but he sure plays like he’s 20, despite only dressing for three games this year because of a brutal eye injury. Garon’s start comes at a time where Jose Theodore has gone 5-1-1 in his last seven games. However, seeing as the team plays tomorrow night against Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers, the thinking from Julien is probably to have Theodore fresh for another true test with the Russian sniper, as No Way José looks to go up 2-Love on the league’s most dynamic player.
Meanwhile, directly from the Habs hospital desk, tonight marks the return of one Niklas Sundstrom. While his abscence was not overly noticeable, ‘Sunny’s’ graceful stride, astute play, and underrated playmaking all make him a favourable player to have on your side. In all honesty, it really is too bad that the slick Swede missed ‘the game’ on Saturday. It would have been nice to see his recent hard work and consistent class rewarded with a few ticks on the score sheet.
While Sundstrom returns, his countryman Andreas Dackell is a good bet to miss tonight’s affair. Dackell, who had previously been playing on a line with Chad Kilger and Joe Juneau, is battling a bit of a bum-knee, although he should return to the team in good time. Jason Ward will step into Dackell’s spot to the right of Joe Juneau, with Sundstrom most likely seeing time on the left side of the line. Speaking of Juneau, the vet has 5 points in his past five games, perhaps some of which could be attributed to the excellent work of Chad Kilger; who’s hard nosed, fast skating, heads-up play of late has been a definite first step out of Coach Claude’s doghouse. The Habs will continue to miss Andrei Markov, though, as the talented rearguard continues to recover from that nagging hip injury.
Despite consistenly having a pair of cement blocks attached to him (one lies at the feet, the other sits in between his helmet), Pierre Dagenais is contributing and at this point in time he can be greatly thanked for his offensive talents, which have seen him post a career high in goals with eight, three of which have come during the past three games. Skating on Mike Ribeiro’s wing, Dagenais’ nose for the net works well to compliment Ribeiro’s slick passing, provided ‘Dags’ has any sort of jump in his stride and decides to keep his feet moving. Richard Zednik, the key member of the line, continues to contribue, sitting tied for the team lead in goals, as well as posting three points in his past three games. While Zednik’s added intensity, superhuman strength, and willingness to crash and bang in all corners of the rink have helped to improve his overall game of late, his true place is alongside Saku Koivu.
Michael Ryder continues to lead all NHL rookies in scoring, and has his sights set firmly on the NHL’s Calder Trophy. While we are just over half way through the season, Ryder has cemented himself among the favourites to win the award, along with Trent Hunter, Andrew Raycroft, Patrice Bergeron, and Joni Pitkanen. After scoring two goals on Monday, Bergeron now sits five points back of The Rockin’ Ryder. With eight points in his past four matches, which of course included his brilliant four point effort in Pittsburgh, Ryder is showing no real signs of stopping. It’s quite simple really, combine his tremendous shot and always tingling scoring sense with Saku Koivu’s on ice brilliance, and there is always fear in opposing defenceman. Always.