Max Pacioretty is expected to draw back into the lineup as the Habs kick off a four game road trip against the Calgary Flames Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EST. Pacioretty missed the Canadiens’ first win of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night. In his absence, David Desharnais struggled to produce and was limited to only 13:54 of ice time. Head Coach Michel Therrien called out Desharnais‘ line after the game, “We want the competition level to rise.” Pacioretty’s return should be a good place to start.
Montreal has had a sparse schedule thus far and takes a 1-1 record into Calgary for their first matchup since March 6, 2012 – a 5-4 victory for the Flames. The teams did not meet in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but will play twice this year with a second meeting scheduled for February 4, 2014.
The Flames are 1-0-2 to start the season, with their latest game ending in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Goaltender Joey MacDonald will start his third straight game for Calgary after Karri Ramo opened the season in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
Carey Price gets his third straight start as well, with backup Peter Budaj expected to see his first action of the season against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. It will be the first back-to-back games of the season for the Canadiens, who also play Vancouver on Saturday before closing out their western swing in Winnipeg next Tuesday.
Lars Eller was named the NHL’s second star of the week after posting three goals and two assists in the Canadiens’ first two games. Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin was the NHL’s first star while Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury posted a 2-0 record for third star honours.
Injuries for the Flames include former Hab Michael Cammalleri and Matt Stajan. The Canadiens remain without the services of George Parros, who would have surely squared off with heavyweight Brian McGrattan. Defensemen Douglas Murray, Davis Drewiske, and Alexei Emelin also remain on the sidelines. Rookie Nathan Beaulieu was recalled from Hamilton to serve as the team’s seventh defenseman throughout the road trip.
Captain Brian Gionta will also play after there was concern he would miss the game when he opted out of the team’s flight to Calgary Monday afternoon. Gionta, who flew out to join the team on Tuesday, was tending to family matters as his son was ill.
Bourque – Plekanec – Gionta
Galchenyuk – Eller – Gallagher
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Briere
Moen – White – Prust
Glencross – Street – Jones
Galiardi – Backlund – Hudler
Baertschi – Monahan – Stempniak
Bouma – Colborne – McGrattan
Keys to Victory:
1) Pressure the Goalie: When news broke that veteran goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was retiring with one year remaining on his contract, the Flames were left without an obvious replacement. An open audition has been issued and thus far Joey MacDonald holds the edge over Karri Ramo. With 12 regulation goals allowed in three games, the Flames goaltending could be better. So it will be in the Habs best interest to take advantage of Calgary’s growing pains in net with an early goal or two.
2) Take Advantage of Inexperience: After trading long-standing captain Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh last year, the Calgary Flames officially entered a rebuilding phase. With injuries to veterans Cammalleri and Stajan, the club is getting an even closer look at some of its youth. Apart from former Red Wing Jiri Hudler, newly-appointed captain Mark Giordano, and veterans Lee Stempniak and Curtis Glencross, the Flames lineup is comprised primarily of fresh faces. For Montreal to be successful, they will have to leverage their experience to control the game and apply wave after wave of their transition game that has the potential to feast on the young Flames’ mistakes.
3) But Don’t Underestimate: Sure, the Flames are young and boast a relatively untested lineup. But they’re still finding ways to score and pick up points early in the season. Calgary’s goals against problem aside, they’ve managed to score as many as they’ve allowed. One bright spot for the Flames has been 18-year-old Sean Monahan, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The rookie has two goals and an assist thus far, but his -3 rating suggests his defensive game has room to improve. If the Habs don’t respect their opponent, they risk falling to a group of guys playing to prove they deserve their post in the NHL.