When Saku Koivu steps onto the ice, he is respected by each and every one of his teammates. Unfortunately for him, his agressive, fireball play often puts him at the top of his opponents’ hit lists. Going into the Habs’ December 29th victory over Atlanta, Koivu was playing some of the finest hockey of his career. However, a Marc Savard elbow-to-the-head would leave the gritty captain a little too loosey goosey, en-route to a potential concussion. Koivu looks to return to the ice tonight against Savard and Co.,and the captain let reporters know on Friday that, “If I feel as good as I did today, I’ll be ready to go.” Good news, but not yet a sure thing.
After missing the team’s 1-1 draw in Dallas on New Years Eve due to the supposed injury, Captain Koivu hopes to return to action tonight in Montreal, when the Thrashers and Habs revisit each other for the second time in five days. If Koivu is to return, he may see some much needed offensive support from a pair of his most skilled teammates. Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis have both had strong careers when it comes to facing the Thrashers. Zednik’s 16 points in 19 games are impressive, and for Bulis, posting 10 points in 16 matches is another strong statistic for the speedy winger.
If Claude Julien has his way, it’s likely that the 25-year-old Bulis will see quite a bit of ice time tonight. With the always dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov in town, the speed of Niklas Sundstrom and Jan Bulis may be far more effective in shutting down the pair, than the older, slower legs of Joe Juneau and Andy Dackell.
After recently returning from a brutal broken ankle, Jason Ward is preparing to further make his mark with the team. Often labelled a fourth-liner, Ward is the ‘Hustle-Machine’, never stopping and hitting everyone within his reach. Coach Claude isn’t blind to Ward’s efforts, and rewarded him with some time amongst the team’s top two lines in Dallas. One thing’s for sure, Jason Ward is the type of player that would never harm a team. As long as he’s healthy, the pounding 6’3 winger could become a fan favourite and fixture on the club’s third line for many seasons.
As for the opponents this afternoon, there’s no hiding for Ilya Kovalchuk. The uber-talented Russian superstar currently leads the NHL in points scored at 46, and sits second to Rick Nash in the goal-scoring deparment with 22. Kovalchuk will look to exploit the slower Montreal defence, and his skating ability and shot are the ultimate combination. Call Sheldon Souray, because he’s going to be very busy every time the 20-year-old sniper steps on to the ice. The Thrashers are in the midst of a three game losing streak., despite Kovalchuk’s 11 points in his past six games.
One last note for all, and perhaps the most important. If you’ve skipped through the rest of the page, just make sure you know that the game is infact and early one. A 2:00 start hits the Bell Centre this afternoon, where it’s expected that this month’s Molson Cup Winner, Jose Theodore, will get the call in net.