The Montreal Canadiens are in Philadelphia Wednesday night to face an injury depleted Flyers defensive corps. Goalie Antero Niittymaki had a hip injury (torn labrum) two weeks ago in training camp that the Flyers treated with cortisone shots with the hope that he would be able to return to the lineup instead of requiring surgery. He missed the season opener but did play well in the Flyers next two games. Defenceman Mike Rathje has a herniated disk that may require surgery. In addition to these regulars, two other players (rookie defenceman Lars Jonsson and forward Brad Tapper) are already listed on the injury list. It’s possible that some of these injured players would temporarily give the Flyers some cap relief; their cap number to start the season was approximately $42.3 million. One option that the Flyers are reportedly looking into is signing veteran UFA defenceman Brian Leetch to a contract, should he be interested in playing in Philadelphia.
Head coach Guy Carbonneau is expected to announce that David Aebischer will be the starting goalie for tonight’s game. Carbo has shown an early tendency not to select his starter too far in advance. “I haven’t decided who will play Wednesday, but I think David deserves another chance.” The Habs are off to a good start to the season, taking 3 out of 4 points in their first two games, both on the road, and both decided after overtime by shootouts. It will be interesting to see which version of the Habs will show up: the high flying ones that lost in a shootout in Buffalo last Friday, or the tighter-checking players that beat the Maple Leafs in a shootout last Saturday.
The Habs second line of Plekanec, Kovalev & Samsonov is already under scrutiny by the Montreal media. While the line has produced only 2 points thus far by Kovalev (2 assists), the head coach is not yet concerned. “Do we expect more? Sure. But it’s early and I think they’re going to sort things out. They’re talented players and they’re still getting used to each other. If we find that things aren’t coming together after another six or eight games, then maybe we’ll see about some changes. But it’s too early to panic.”
Last season, the Habs were successful against the Flyers, with a 3-1 record on their side. The Flyers are looking for their first home win tonight after suffering a 5-4 overtime shootout loss to the New York Rangers last Saturday. Philadelphia dealt some retribution to the Rangers last night, with a 4-2 win over the Rangers in New York. It’s uncertain if Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock will go with Niittymaki in back to back games considering his hip problem; the Habs are more likely to see 1B goalie Robert Esche between the pipes. *UPDATE* A Philadelphia newspaper reports that Niittymaki will start tonight http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/sports/hockey/15728991.htm
Projected Montreal Lineup:
Chris Higgins – Saku Koivu – Michael Ryder
Sergei Samsonov – Tomas Plekanec – Alexei Kovalev
Mike Johnson – Radek Bonk – Alex Perezhogin
Aaron Downey – Steve Begin – Guillaume Latendresse
Michael Komisarek – Andrei Markov
Sheldon Souray – Craig Rivet
Janne Niinimaa – Mathieu Dandenault
Scratches & Injuries: Cristobal Huet [scratch], Garth Murray [scratch], Mark Steit [scratch] Francis Bouillon [knee surgery; expected back late November]
Predicted Philadelphia Lineup:
Simon Gagne – Peter Forsberg – Mike Knuble
R.J Umberger – Jeff Carter – Niko Dimitrakos
Geoff Sanderson -Mike Richards – Kyle Calder
Boyd Kane – Petr Nedved – Sami Kapanen
Derian Hatcher – Denis Gauthier
Joni Pitkanen – Freddy Meyers
Nolan Baumgartner – Randy Jones
Scratches & Injuries: Mike Rathje [herniated disk], Antero Niittymake [torn labrum, hip, scratch], Riley Cote [scratch], Lars Jonsson [injured], Brad Tapper [injured]
The Canadiens tied a league record Saturday night, by going to shootouts to decide their first two games of this season [Oct.6 & 7]. The record is shared with Buffalo [Oct. 4 & 6], but the Canadiens did it in a quicker span of 1 day….Saku Koivu was the winner of the Molson Cup for three stars selections for the 2005-06 season…Craig Rivet played his 600th career game in the NHL last Friday versus Buffalo. All of his games have been played in a Habs uniform….Mathieu Dandenault played in his 700th NHL game Saturday night against Toronto.
Last season, Simon Gagne won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP, and the Toyota Cup for most First Star selections…