The Montreal Canadiens are on the road tonight to face the Chicago Blackhawks, a retooled team that started the season well with 10 new faces in their lineup. The Hawks are 3-2 to start this season, with a much improved offensive, thanks in part to forwards Martin Havlat [6 goals & 6 assists], and his line mates Radim Vrbata [2 goals, 5 assists] and Michal Handzus [2 goals, 4 assists]. Both Havlat & Vrbata have scored at least 1 point in each of the team’s first 5 games, while Havlat is also the current league scoring leader.
Part of the team’s success lies with their power play, which is ranked 6th overall in the league with a 24.1 percentage rating. Assistant coach, and former Hab, Denis Savard has been an integral part of the team’s new approach to the man advantage. In their last game versus Colorado, they were 3-10 on the power play.
The Habs were victorious last night, with a 5-4 win against Calgary in regulation time. The win came at a cost, as veteran Habs forward Aaron Downey was injured with a questionable shoulder hit by Robin Regehr in the first period. After spending a few minutes down on the ice, Downey skated off with assistance but was visibly shaky. A stay in the hospital was required, and he has been diagnosed with a serious concussion. “I saw the opportunity to make a big hit there on Downey and I took it,” said Regehr. “It was just after they got the momentum so I wanted to get our guys going a bit. I think he was just admiring his dump-in and I tried to hit him with my shoulder. I think it was perfectly clean.” Calgary forward and Montreal native Matthew Lombardi scored twice against the Canadiens, with nearly 50 of his family and friends in attendance to cheer him on. The Habs had a pair of two goal scorers in Sheldon Souray (both on the power play) and Radek Bonk (one short handed); Alexei Kovalev scored the game winner, also on the power play.
Predicted Montreal Lineup:
Chris Higgins – Saku Koivu – Michael Ryder
Sergei Samsonov – Tomas Plekanec – Alexei Kovalev
Alex Perezhogin – Radek Bonk – Mike Johnson
Garth Murray – Steve Begin – Guillaume Latendresse
Andrei Markov – Michael Komisarek
Sheldon Souray – Craig Rivet
Janne Niinama – Mark Streit
Scratches & Injuries: Cristobal Huet [scratch], Aaron Downey [concussion, indefinitely], Mathieu Dandenault [hamstring injury] Francis Bouillon [knee surgery; expected back late November]
Predicted Chicago Lineup:
Martin Havlat – Michal Handzus – Radim Vrbata
Rene Bourque – Bryan Smolinski – Martin Lapointe
Mikael Holmqvist – Patrick Sharp – Jeff Hamilton
Tony Salmelainen – Denis Arkhipov Matt Keith
Duncan Keith – Jeff Vandermeer
Adrian Aucoin – Brent Seabrook
Jason Cullimore Lasse Kukkonen
Scratches & Injuries: Reed Low [scratch], Tuomo Ruutu [knee injury], Cam Barker [fractured ankle], Patrik Lalime [back surgery], Brian Boucher [scratch]
Garth Murray is expected to replace the injured Downey on the 4th line tonight…The Canadiens slumped to 2nd overall in penalty killing (90.6%) after allowing 2 power play goals against Calgary…The Habs have scored 3 short handed goals so far this season (Higgins 2, Bonk 1) to rank first in the NHL.
Martin Havlat is only the 3rd player in NHL season to score 12 points in their first five games with a team that they’ve been traded. The other two players are: Wayne Gretzky, and former Habs great Joe Malone…Tonight’s game is the first time the two teams have played each other in Chicago since Feb. 27, 2002. The Canadiens won that game 3-2. The Blackhawks have not defeated the Habs since they won 3-2 on December 3, 2001…Chicago is ranked 29th in the league in penalty killing, with a 71.9 % rate.