It has been a long summer Montreal Canadiens fans and the players themselves, but it all comes to an end at 7pm EST on Wednesday, October 3rd. That’s right folks, the Habs are back!
After an intriguing pre-season, which included new prospects, UFA signings, and the return of the player many love to hate – Patrice Brisebois – it’s time to get down to business in Raleigh, Carolina.
The Hurricanes will host the Canadiens in the first regular season game for both clubs and the first game in which players will be playing as a team for a win and not for their personal gain in order to win a roster spot.
After the disappointing finale to the Habs’ 06-07 season, an issue I will not delve into deeper at this point, the team and fans know that every point counts. With training camp out of the way, there’s no longer such thing as a meaningless game for Montreal. The team will need to pull together and play as just that – a team – if they want to win, beginning Wednesday versus Carolina.
So, without further adieu, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome all HabsWorld readers to a new season of coverage.
Seeing as this will be the Habs’ first game of the season, it’s only proper that a breakdown of the team is provided rather than the match-up’s you’re likely to see against the ‘Canes.
The Habs boast a much younger line up this season with three rookies winning roster spots with the big team. Forwards Mikhail Grabovski, Kyle Chipchura, and goaltender Carey Price survived the final cuts and will suit up Wednesday night.
Both Chipchura and Price have yet to play in an NHL game, while Grabovski saw some action in a short three game stint with the Canadiens last season.
With Cristobal Huet slotted in as the Habs’ number one goaltender, Price will find himself watching the first few games from the bench as a backup, awaiting anxiously his first action.
Meanwhile, two other young players in Andrei Kostitsyn, 22, and Guillaume Latendresse, 19, will also hit the ice for Montreal’s first match of the season.
With no official lines announced at the time I’m writing this, one can only assume that Kostitsyn will skate along side fellow Belarusian, Grabovski, and their Russian neighbor, Alex Kovalev. This trio provides the team with a creative and talented second line.
A leaner Latendresse found himself skating with Plekanec and Smolinski on the club’s third unit over the past couple games of pre-season and will probably due the same again against Carolina. While this line has the looks of a shut down line, opponents mustn’t neglect its offensive capabilities or they’ll quickly reap the consequences.
It shouldn’t be long before Chipchura becomes a fan favorite – especially if he finds himself playing on the forth line with Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos. When these three forwards take to the ice, you better believe they’re not leaving anything behind. Expect these guys to be featured on the next new Red Bull commercial you see – wings and all.
Finally for the forward, Christopher Higgins and Michael Ryder will once again be centered by the Captain, Saku Koivu. Should the three remain healthy, this could once again be the Canadiens’ most dominant line night in and night out.
Koivu is coming off his best season offensively of his career while Ryder is playing for a brand new contract with the chance of hitting unrestricted free agent waters this summer. Top that with a healthy Higgins and you have what could prove to be one of the better lines in the NHL – but only time will tell.
On defense the Hab’s first pairing is a given. The highest paid player in Montreal Canadiens history, Andrei Markov, will play alongside Michael Komisarek. While it is still uncertain as to whether Coach Guy Carbonneau will remain true to his word and start Brisebois as the team’s number four defenseman, you can expect Roman Hamrlik to headline the second pairing.
Both Hamrlik and Mark Streit provide Carbonneau with options as both are capable of playing either the left or right side of the ice. Though, both possess a left shot and coaches traditionally prefer to play the positions according to shots.
Either way, veteran Mathieu Dandenault finds himself the odd man out with Streit’s continual improvement after serving as a forward for much of last season. Also, should Bouillon not return to his 2005-2006 form when he dominated in the backend, he too will find himself on the outside looking in with Josh Gorges lurking in the shadows.
With so much of this preview aimed at introducing your 2007-2008 Montreal Canadiens and a home opener on Saturday, October 13th against this same Carolina squad, I will focus on Hurricanes only briefly at this time.
To know just how long the Hurricanes have been a thorn in the Canadiens’ side, one would have to rewind back to the 2002 playoffs when Carolina eliminated the Habs on route to a Stanley Cup final appearance against the eventual winners, the Detroit Red Wings.
Since that year, Carolina has continued to throttle the Habs in the regular season. The two teams met for a second post-season dance in 2006 when the Hurricanes, back-stopped by Cam Ward, overcame a 2-0 series deficit to win in six and move to the Finals where they captured the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
This budding rivalry gains leaves when you toss in Erik Cole who has 18 career points in 17 games against the Habs, including a whopping 12 goals. Joining Cole as a hated ‘Cane would be Justin Williams – a player forever remembered as the one who helped sink the Habs in the 2006 playoffs by cutting out the team’s heart through the Captain’s eye.
Koivu and fans feared the worst when his vision was in jeopardy due to the high stick that clipped it – Williams’ stick. While accidents happen, this is not one that’s taken lightly, nor forgotten.
The Hurricane’s boast some talented forwards in the form of Eric Staal and veterans Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney. Staal will need to improve on what was considered a sub-par season for the young center if Carolina wishes to return to the playoffs this season after sitting out the last.
There lacks any standout players on the ‘Canes backend, but they have a handful of reliable defensemen in Mike Commodore, Brett Hedican, Frantisek Kaberle, and Glen Wesley.
In goal, no one can forget Cam Ward and the heroics he showcased in the 2006 Stanley Cup win. However, like Staal, Ward will need to play a stronger campaign than the last should Carolina make a push for the post-season.
Well, this concludes a rather lengthy preview. I’d like to take those who took the time to read this through and hope enjoy the new season.
Let the games begin!