With five days to go until the curtain is raised on the 2013-13 NHL regular season, the Canadiens are set for one final tuneup.
24 hours after the Canadiens and Senators squared off, notwithstanding the significant proportion of NHL regulars who were given the night off, the Habs and Sens will now try to take advantage of one last opportunity to work out the kinks in game action.
With their young guys having taken their last kick at the proverbial can, the Habs will now reintroduce a number of important players to their lineup this evening. A full top two lines worth of players, absent from yesterday's game, will take the ice tonight. The Habs struggled to maintain puck possession after the opening minutes yesterday, and players like Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty should change that dynamic. The long-awaited debut of Brian Gionta is also scheduled for this evening, as he returns from an improbable second consecutive (on different arms) biceps tear. Assuming his muscles have been properly re-attached to his skeleton, Gionta should be counted on for some top line duty and powerplay time.
After Peter Budaj took the reins in last night's contest, Carey Price will play a full game this evening. Budaj made several difficult looking saves, appearing to expend a great effort to keep the Senators to five goals. Price should benefit from a NHL-caliber defence in front of him, a privilege which was not extended to Budaj. In addition to playing behind a youthful defence, Budaj was matched up against a veteran Senators roster, which showcased virtually every member of the Senators NHL team, minus Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson.
In addition to Price and some experienced forwards, the Canadiens will also welcome back many of their NHL defencemen. Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon, and possibly even Douglas Murray should be back in the lineup tonight. Jarred Tinordi, who has played in every Canadiens preseason game so far in 2013-14, and Raphael Diaz, who also skated last night, may or may not get the night off.
Tonight's game will also feature a matchup of two of hockey's most exciting defencemen, including one who, in anonymity, occasionally turns the puck over to fourth line forwards leading to garbage time point-shot goals.
Of course, defensive support aside, Price has showed he can handle the Senators before. In his regular season career against the Senators, Price has been dominant - a 14-5-3 record, with a .927 save percentage and three shutouts. His playoff series last spring was up and down, but with Price quite likely injured for the duration of that series, a return to form should not be considered out of the question.
Following tonight's action, the Habs are set to open their regular season on Tuesday, welcoming the Maple Leafs to the Bell Centre. Montreal and Ottawa next meet, in regular season action, on November 7.