The Canadiens adventures in this young season seem to follow a similar template, with one of two outcomes. In each case to-date - Toronto, Philadelphia, Calgary, and Edmonton - the Canadiens have, for at least a portion of the game, significantly carried the flow of the play, and have ended up outpossessing their opponents by a wide margin. This has led to either a decisive victory (Edmonton and Philly) or a frustrating one-goal loss, where the Canadiens ran into a hot goaltender and/or couldn't translate their offence into a victory (see Toronto and Calgary).
One common thread that ties the Leafs, Flyers, Flames, and Oilers together is that none entered the season with especially high expectations. While the Leafs and Oilers' fans will tell that you their team is playoff-bound, but there is an argument to be made that neither will be in contention at the end of the year. The Flyers, and especially the Flames, have even less ground to stand on.
The Vancouver Canucks, while not quite their former selves, are perennial playoff contenders, and only a few years from being one of the league's truly elite teams. Vancouver, now removed from their pillowy-soft Northwest Division as a result of the NHL realignment, will face a greater challenge this year than they have in years past. Nonetheless, the Canucks are strong candidates for the post-season, which is more than one can say for any of the Canadiens previous opponents.
So, what sets the Canucks apart from Montreal's other adversaries? For one, the Canucks have an elite, world-class goaltender in Roberto Luongo. Luongo's resume boasts 277 games of NHL experience more than the combined total of the goalies the Habs have faced to-date, and none can rival Luongo's Stanley Cup appearance or Olympic Gold Medal in their list of notable accomplishments. In addition to his excellent work against the rest of the league, Luongo has been solid against the Habs as well, amassing a .920 save percentage over 28 games of work. The Canadiens are a strong offensive team, but they'll have to be on their game to maintain that trend tonight.
The Canucks are able to ice a decent defence corps, too. Olympic-candidate Dan Hamhuis, along with Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison, combine to make three quarters of Vancouver's solid top-four. Fortunately, for the Habs, Vancouver will be without the services of another one of their top defencemen in Alex Edler. Edler laid a head shot on San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl in the Canucks last game, and on the strength of his prior record, was sentenced to a three game suspension. Edler will serve the first of those three games tonight, which will likely mean the Chris Tanev is the man moving up to the second pair.
There are a few decent candidates for third pair duty, but based on recent games, it looks like waiver-claim Ryan Stanton is most likely to occupy one of those spots. That leaves one spot to be competed for between Andrew Alberts and former-Hab Yannick Weber, with no clear favourite. Weber, the proud owner of perhaps one of the most wholeheartedly mismanaged development tracks among recent Habs prospects, was signed as a free agent by the Canucks this summer. In his first four games out west, Weber has already seen some spot duty as a fourth line forward. Apparently, some things just never change, even two time zones away.
The Canadiens will be without one of their key players as well, as Captain Brian Gionta has returned to Montreal to attend to a personal situation. With Gio unavailable, both Michael Bournival and Ryan White will draw in to tonight's lineup. With the recent centre shakeup combining with the absence of the Habs' best right winger, forward lineups tonight may look something like:
Jarred Tinordi was left a healthy scratch on Thursday night, and if yesterday's practice is any indication, he will sit tonight as well. Nathan Beaulieu was the benefactor on Thursday, and it appears that he has earned another game tonight. That leaves the Canadiens with the following defence pairings:
Another player who got the night off on Thursday was Carey Price, who watched the Habs beat the Oilers after playing the night before in Calgary. Price will be in tonight, making his sixth career start against Vancouver. Price has played well against Vancouver, with a .924 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average to show for his efforts. The Canucks are traditionally a top-10 offensive team, led by the Sedins and supplemented with some strong forward depth. While the Canucks are still without the Sedins' usual running mate, agitator and scorer Alex Burrows, they will still be dangerous in the offensive zone. A characteristically solid game with Price will be a part of any strategy the Canadiens attempt to execute this evening.
For a look at Edler's suspension, and a game preview from the opposing perspective, head over to Nucks Misconduct.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- Bulldogs beat IceCaps in home opener
- Retour sur le match Montréal - Edmonton
- Brian Gionta returns to Montreal for family reasons
- Canadiens at Oilers - Game Recap - Habs' young guns outshine the Oilers
- Hamilton Bulldogs Season Preview