The Montreal Canadiens will finally open their season at the Bell Center Saturday night versus the very team they opened the season with, the Carolina Hurricanes.
It will be the first time that many of the new faces on the team take to the ice in front of a sold out crowd. While they may have had a first taste during the pre-season, there’s just no comparison the intensity associated with the hockey mad Montreal crowd when points are on the line.
Roman Hamrlik, Tom Kostopoulos, Bryan Smolinski, and Kyle Chipchura make their home ice debuts against the ‘Canes.
Carolina is coming off two straight wins and has won three of their last four matches after falling to the Canadiens and Saku Koivu’s two goal effort in a 3-2 overtime loss in game one for both teams of the 2007-2008 season.
The Hurricanes have had success against the Northwest Division over their last two matches, including a dominating 7-1 win over the Maple Leafs last Tuesday. On Thursday, the ‘Canes became the first club to beat the formerly unbeaten Ottawa Senators by a score of 5-3.
Meanwhile, Montreal has picked up five of a possible six points in their first three games of the season, losing only to the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime a week ago.
While Head Coach Guy Carbonneau went with rookie Carey Price in goal against the Penguins Wednesday night, Cristobal Huet will make his return to the crease to face Carolina for a second time around.
The Canadiens have only a trio of games under their belt, but the team already has a growing trend of one-goal games. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing – at least when you’re on the winning end – it’s about time that the Habs’ offense breaks out.
Of course, it’s not all about the attack; the team will need a strong defensive game to counter Carolina’s skilled forwards.
Five players currently have at least a point-per-game pace for the ‘Canes. Eric Staal leads the way with eight points in five games while Justin Williams, Jeff Hamilton, and Rod Brind’Amour aren’t too far behind. Joining the group is Cory Stillman, and although the winger has played only two games, he has four points – two goals and two assists.
While the Habs haven’t had the luxury of a blow-out win, the team does have a few players fairing well offensively thus far. Montreal’s highest paid player, defenseman Andrei Markov, leads the way with five points. He is followed close behind by Koivu (4), and Kovalev (3).
Besides the change in goal, Montreal will make a single roster change. Patrice Bisebois will return to the lineup after sitting out in favor of Josh Gorges first start of the season. Gorges played a total of 16:21 but looked shaky in his season debut. Not playing since pre-season surely didn’t help.
While Brisebois will probably garner some boo’s from crowd in his official return to Montreal, the hope is that fans have enough respect to let the veteran be. Also, it will be important that the blueliner doesn’t try to do too much out there – a simple game is a safe game.
Montreal will remain home to face the Florida Panthers Tuesday night while Carolina will remain inactive for nearly a week before playing in Pittsburgh next Friday.
How They Line Up
Higgins – Koivu – Ryder
Kostitsyn – Plekanec – Kovalev
Latendresse – Smolinski – Kostopoulos
Begin – Chipchura – Dandenault
Markov – Komisarek
Hamrlik – Brisebois
Bouillon – Streit
Scratches: Gorges, Grabovski, Murray