The Rangers are coming to town tonight, so the Montreal Canadiens are looking to continue their strong play at both ends of the rink and take the first game of this home and home series which concludes Monday night. After losing in overtime only two evenings ago, the Habs will surely be eager to get back in the win column against a Ranger club that is infinitely better than any iced in the past few years.
Led by Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers are potentially an offensive force that will surely test Montreal’s defence. Jagr seems to have recovered the form that saw him lead the NHL in scoring a few years back as he’s jumped out to a fantastic start with ten goals and 17 points in the first 11 games of the year. Playing on the top line with Jagr are Martin Straka and Michael Nylander, both of whom are enjoying fine seasons. The test will be a large one for either Saku Koivu’s line or that of Radek Bonk. Coach Claude Julien will either try power against power and send the captain out there to counter Jagr, or he’ll utilize his defensive crew to neutralize the dominating Czech. One thing is for certain, Andrei Markov will see a lot of action as he’ll certainly be offered the chance to take on one of the league’s best.
The second line for the Rangers, including former Habs Marty Rucinsky and Marcel Hossa, is also doing extremely well. When Bob Gainey traded Hossa at the beginning of the season, he certainly didn’t envisage the youngster hitting the second line in New York and producing as much as he has. With three goals and seven points in ten games, he’s certainly been a large surprise in Manhatten. Of course, it’s early days, and his problem has never been with skill, but rather with consistency. Time will tell if he’ll continue at the rate he’s going now.
With luck and some good switching, Mike Ribeiro should be able to have a strong night tonight. While the top two lines are quite solid, the bottom two for New York are less than stellar. If he can get the matchup he wants, Ribeiro might find himself looking at more time on the puck against the line of Blair Betts or Dominic Moore. Ribeiro’s linemate Richard Zednik will surely benefit from having one game under his belt, and should look much better tonight as well.
The big test tonight for the Habs is demonstrating how resilient they are. So far this season they’ve come back strong after a loss – in fact they’ve played very consistent hockey all year. They’ve therefore set the bar fairly high and the coaches and fans expect to see another extremely strong performance. The loss on Thursday, while disappointing, was also the best game of the year that they’ve had as a team.
Tonight they must prove that the early season was no fluke. By coming out hard and continuing their consistent play, they’ll show the critics – and probably prove to themselves – that this team is for real, and not just a ten-game wonder.
Rangers Potential Lineup
Martin Straka – Michael Nylander – Jaromir Jagr
Martin Rucinsky – Steve Rucchin – Fedor Federov
Jason Ward – Blair Betts – Ville Nieminen
Jed Ortmeyer – Dominic Moore –
Fedor Tyutin – Darius Kasparatis
Tom Poti – Jason Strudwick
Marek Malik – Michal Rozsival
Montreal’s Potential Lineup
Alex Perezhogin – Saku Koivu – Alex Kovalev
Richard Zednik – Mike Ribeiro – Michael Ryder
Jan Bulis – Radek Bonk – Steve Begin
Chris Higgins – Tomas Plekanec – Pierre Dagenais
Sheldon Souray – Mike Komisarek
Andrei Markov – Craig Rivet
Francis Bouillon – Mathieu Dandenault
Montreal – Jose Theodore
New York – Henrik Lundqvist