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On the other side of the continent away from the snow and the cold of Montreal, les Canadiens are in Vancouver to face the Canucks tonight with hopes of getting their road swing moving in the right direction. There are a few players and issues worth looking at for this one, and as defence is a key, taking a look at Mike Komisarek seems a good place to start.

As for Komisarek, it’s a darn good thing Markov is injured otherwise I see precisely zero chance of him playing tonight. As it is, I think there have to be decent odds put on Cote getting the place in the lineup rather than Komi. Anyone who watched his play closely the other night will surely agree that he was piss poor. He was slow moving the puck every time he touched it and my first thought when he got the puck was, “Ah, another giveaway.”

The good news in all this is that Gainey et al didn’t stop using him and sit him at the end of the bench. Since he was allowed to work through his problems (hi Claude Julien, see anything you might consider interesting here?) I’m thinking he learned a few things as the night wore on. Playing in a game like the Calgary affair will surely impress upon him the need to move the puck quicker. The proof is in the pudding – and I highly look forward to seeing how he comes out against the Nuck-Nucks.

I haven’t seen anything official on the lineups, but I also would expect to see Kostitsyn on the ice. Against Vancouver, speed is a critical element and Kosty has plenty to burn. Shame that Perez is struggling because of his abysmal use early this season, because he should also be up to face these Canucks. If Kosty is inserted in the lineup, however, I’d rather see him take Zed’s spot on the second line rather than toil for 8-10 minutes working the fourth line. Zed’s been pathetic and could do with watching a few games to remember how to play.

Speaking of Zed, I’m very disappointed to have to point out that, what many of us thought might happen, actually did come to pass. Ever since that fateful day when he was nailed by McLaren, he has never been the same player. He’s still strong, but he absolutely never tries to cut into the slot anymore, preferring to try and beat a defender to the outside. It’s easy to defend against as well for two reasons – one, it’s more a containment thing, and two, everyone now knows that’s all he does. On a related note regarding Zed, is anyone else sick to death of seeing him try to transport the puck with one hand and then lose it to a defender?

It’s interesting to note that, in the three games since the new regime has taken over, our “second” line of Bonk, Bulis and Zednik has as much or more ice time than the “first” line. Of course, they aren’t used as a first line, but Bonk’s trio if *finally* being properly used as a defensive trio against the best opposing line. Bonk is being put in a situation where he can succeed, rather than being used in a purely defensive role. I hate to allude to this, but it’s like the shackles have been removed and he’s allowed to try things.

Continuing the theme of removed shackles, Kovalev has done nothing to really impress me with Gainey’s coaching over that of Julien. I still see the same quasi-lazy skater pirouetting needlessly and failing to get involved altogether too often. It’s a shame that a work-ethic doesn’t come with his bevy of skills. Of course he hasn’t been bad, but I still expect more than one or two shifty plays from him a game.

Conversly, the most pleasing player, to me, since the change in atmosphere behind the bench has been Mike Ribeiro. Yeah, coming from me that’s quite a statement, but now it looks like this kid is finally starting to understand what it takes to make it in the NHL. Early days, for sure (one can hardly make any lasting assumptions after a mere three games), but Ribsy is competing well on every single shift. Of course, he’s also being used very effectively. The fourth line is really where he belongs with this team, as long as you use him as a power play specialist.

Of special interest, Koivu and Ribeiro have been put on the same line on the power play. This is sheer brilliance from behind the bench, as far as I’m concerned, and a long time coming. Getting the two opposing ends of the personnel scale working together as a unit can do nothing but improve the morale of the team. Why this was never done before escapes me entirely, and I’ve been waiting for it since Ribs made it to the NHL, but after they score a few goals together and celebrate excellent play together, they will *both* start to see the benefits of the other.

Unfortunately, despite some positive aspects, I don’t see a lot of hope for this game. While the team finished with a respectable score against the Flames (who are an incredible team – that Phaneuf kid is mind-boggling, and is second in my rookie voting behind a certain Ovechkin character), I’m not sure they can find a way to beat a very strong Canuck squad. While I believe we match up better in terms of the fact that Vancouver is less physical than Calgary, I still think the western forecheck is going to contain our defence quite effectively without Markov. For a win, look for Bouillon to be a star, and if he isn’t, look for the Habs to be mired in their own end fairly consistently.

Finally, I believe this game is critical game in the eyes of our GM. There have been an exceptional number of rumours circulating around the Canucks, and I’m curious to see if anything will be consummated at the end of this encounter. I have strong doubts, but since things have become a little more quiet on the trade front, it seems precisely the time for Gainey to make a move. If he is to shuffle things around, this is the ideal time to do it. On the road a new player would be forced to gel with his team much quicker than at home, and in terms of the schedule and Montreal making the playoffs, the sooner things are shuffled and settled, the better they have of gelling and running off a series of wins.

At the very least, we should be in for an entertaining night of hockey.

A Concerned Fan