Two weeks ago, the Florida Panthers marched into the Bell Centre and dealt the Habs a disappointing loss in a close game. Tonight, the Habs will attempt to return the favour.
Kicking off their Florida Revenge Tour last night, the Canadiens got their second crack at the Stamkos-less Lightning, and came out with two points for their troubles. The Habs played a decent game, and provided exactly what many EOTPers were looking for - a win in the possession column, and a win the standings. Despite the loss of their triggerman, the Lightning have been a decent possession team, and they still enjoy fantastic goaltending. With the caveat that the Lightning were short two regular defencemen, in Eric Brewer and Sami Salo, the Habs overcame both of those points of contention, out-possessing the Bolts and maintaining control of a game in which Ben Bishop allowed only one goal in 65 minutes.
Tonight, the Panthers represent a lesser challenge. Like the Lightning, they are a possession positive team. Unlike the Lightning, they don't have Martin St. Louis, nor a host of other important attributes. First and foremost, Tim Thomas has been the anti-Bishop so far this year, and if Montreal can start to pick their shooting luck up again, they may have a chance to rack up some goals tonight. A similar opportunity will exist on special teams, where the Panthers are terrible on the kill and Montreal has been nigh impenetrable. Finally, the Cats will be without one of their more productive forwards, as Scottie Upshall was injured about a week ago and is yet to return. Stop me if I said the same thing two weeks ago, but if Montreal is intent on being a contender this season, it would behoove them to get another win while demonstrating their ability to outplay teams like the Panthers.
Like the Habs, the Cats also played last night, falling to the Detroit Red Wings. The Panthers carried the flow of the play, at least possession-wise, but were felled when Henrik Zetterberg took over the game. In any case, the Panthers again showed that they can handle themselves at even strength, even while collecting their third consecutive loss.
One positive change since the Panthers last played Montreal is the return of Jonathan Huberdeau, who sat out when these two teams last met. At just twenty years of age, Huberdeau is already the Panthers best forward, and consistently faces the best that his opponents have to offer. Playing on a team whose offence is nearly as anemic as that of the Habs, look for Panthers head coach Peter Horachek to give the young Quebecois to get plenty of opportunities in the offensive zone.
With their defensive pairs recently rejigged, Montreal should be better equipped to counter this. Andrei Markov and Alex Emelin have quickly gelled to their comfortable dynamic of last season, and while, as Olivier commented in his review of last night's Tampa game, it appears that Subban and Gorges may still be feeling each other out, Montreal can nonetheless boast two effective pairs in their top-4. As the home team, Florida will have the benefit of last change this evening, so look for Michel Therrien to adopt a strategy of countering Huberdeau with anyone who isn't Raphael Diaz or Francis Bouillon.
For the first time since he left the Canadiens in a heart-wrenching parting of the ways, Scott Gomez will face his former team this evening. Gomez was a healthy scratch a fortnight ago, as has been the case often for him recently. Tonight's game will be Gomez's third in the month of December. In all likelihood, he'll slot in tonight alongside call-up Drew Shore and Jimmy Hayes, forming a fourth line that should be ripe for the picking of Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Ryan White.
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