For people of my generation, Saku Koivu is the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. That's no disrespect to Brian Gionta, whose tenure as captain has already seen more playoff success than Koivu's, but fans between the ages of about 20-30 grew up watching Saku as the lone star on a terrible team.
We watched him grow up from a tiny little sparkplug to a savvy veteran. We watched his career hang in the balance after an accidental knee-on-knee, and again while battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma at just 28 years old.
Koivu turned his hardship into inspiration, returning for the last couple games of the regular season, and leading the Canadiens in points en route to a first round upset over the Boston Bruins. In the absence of Stanley Cups over the previous 19 seasons, that kind of story became something for Habs fans everywhere to hang their hearts on.
Memories of Saku's return are shockingly crisp, even though it was over eleven years ago. To give context to how long eleven years is in NHL time, in 2002 it was Andrei Markov who was the promising young rookie whose ice time was getting limited by Michel Therrien behind such stellar players like Stephane Quintal, Craig Rivet, Karl Dykhuis, Patrice Brisebois, and Sheldon Souray.
So with it being such a long time, and Koivu being at the end of his prime at that time, we should expect limited minutes from Saku tonight, right?
Well, no. Bruce Boudreau is playing two forwards on the Ducks more than the soon-to-be 39-year-old Finnish center, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Over and above that, he's facing the toughest opponents that other teams have to offer on a nightly basis, while starting the majority of his shifts in his own zone, and he's playing the second-most minutes of any Ducks forward on the penalty kill. It's amazing what Koivu is able to do at his age.
Koivu's heir apparent in Montreal, Tomas Plekanec, is just beginning to heat up offensively with three goals and one assist in the last three games. That production is extremely important with the continuing struggles of David Desharnais, not to mention the injuries to Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust, and Danny Briere.
The Ducks, for their part, are a completely different team from last season's PDO driven second place finish, as they've been a better possession team than Montreal early in the season. That increase in solid play is in no small part due to the increased depth made possible by the trade of Bobby Ryan to Ottawa. Youngsters Jakub Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm have been excellent, and new addition Mathieu Perrault is both their possession leader, and a Hab killer.
And they're clearly excited to play at the Bell Centre, with Teemu Selanne noting yesterday that Montreal is "horny for hockey", and how great that makes the experience of playing here.
Montreal and Anaheim are both coming off of games where they led 2-0 and blew it, with Anaheim losing 4-2 to Toronto and Montreal managing to get one goal back against Edmonton, losing 4-3. Both teams will be looking to avoid doing that again, so expect a tightly checked game, well, expect it from Anaheim at least.
The Habs are going to have to find a way to cut down on odd man rushes that they're giving up, as they seem to be coming at a rate of two per period over the last stretch. Even with how brilliant Carey Price has been thus far this season, he's not going to stop a ton of those chances, especially if it's not P.K. Subban defending it.
The Canadiens are in for a tough battle tonight, and they'll need to play a full game for the first time since they beat Vancouver 4-1. As always we'll have lineups up closer to game time.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- Canadiens vs Oilers - Game Recap - Sitting on leads doesn't work
- Greg Pateryn gets the call up from Hamilton
- Ears on the Prize - Episode 7 - Podcast
- Retour sur le match Canadiens vs Oilers
- Jarred Tinordi assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs