Only 24 hours after the Canadiens opened their exhibition season against the Buffalo Sabres, another platoon of Habs will take to the ice tonight against their biggest rivals. Fans will have to make due, as tonight's match-up with the Bruins is the only one until December 5, 2013.
The Canadiens went with a very young lineup last night, and for the most part, acquitted themselves well. The group slated to go for this evening will more closely resemble the product that will take the ice on opening night, though there are still a number of holes.
"The Habs top line last night was Galchenyuk, Eller, and Gallagher," is a sentence that should be a fixture of game previews this year, and last night was no exception. While they couldn't find the scoresheet, the line buzzed and created pressure throughout the evening. Tonight, they will rest.
Taking their place will be a number of veterans that didn't see the ice yesterday, including a potential opening fourth line combination of Travis Moen, Gabriel Dumont, and Ryan White. Bottom-six fill-in Mike Blunden will play as well.
Some of the Canadiens featured scorers will also play this evening, with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais ready to reprise their role as go-to players in the Canadiens' top-six. Desharnais, reportedly, has spent the season working on his skating, and a more explosive DD would be a welcome upgrade for a team that shouldn't have too much trouble scoring this year regardless.
Joining the more experienced group will be first-time Canadiens Daniel Briere and Christian Thomas, and they will each likely look to show off the scoring touch on which the Canadiens will rely this year. While Briere's importance to the lineup will be magnified in the possible early-season absence of Brian Gionta, Thomas may also have to play a top-9 role until the captain returns.
Of course, Thomas is not yet a lock to take on the top-9 spot, and one of his competitors is former first-round pick Louis Leblanc. Leblanc is coming off a tough, injury-marred campaign last year, and will be looking to return to his form of two seasons ago when he showed that he can be an effective third-liner at the NHL level. Should Leblanc accomplish this, he will position himself well to be among the first call-ups when the Canadiens need an injury replacement.
Carey Price will take the ice tonight to start in the net for the Habs, backed up by Robert Mayer. Price and Mayer are firmly entrenched in their respective roles (Price as the Canadiens' starter, Mayer as the Bulldogs' back-up), leaving little drama in the Habs' nets. Both players avoiding injury would be a fine way to kick-off their preseason.
Perhaps the most compelling story-line of this evening is the brother-vs.-brother factor, as P.K. Subban appears set to take on his brother, Bruins goalkeeper Malcolm, for the first time at the NHL level tonight. Malcolm, coming off an excellent year in Belleville, is looking to solidify himself as the starter for the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence. P.K., meanwhile, is warming up for another run at the Norris, and will likely endeavour to avoid decapitating a family member with a blue line laser this evening.
Finally, in an encouraging bit of rethinking, early signs point to the Canadiens having reconfigured their penalty kill, as last night's group played a more modern box deployment, as opposed to last season's diamond setup. While there are obviously a number of factors that go into a good penalty kill, moving to a far superior formation should make a big difference in shoring up one of Montreal's biggest weaknesses last year. How the Canadiens play the penalty kill, and whether this change translates to improved results remains to be seen, but for now, it looks like we can all join EOTP's own Robert Rice is congratulating J.J. Daigneault on moving the Canadiens penalty-killing philosophy ahead three decades in a single offseason.