With European, Major Junior, and Bulldogs players returning to their respective clubs, and the Canadiens injured beginning to return to the ice, the Habs are rounding into form. These milestones, planned or otherwise, are taking place at just the right time - the exhibition season is beginning to draw to a close.
In their last outing, the Canadiens played a strong game of hockey, but couldn't buy a goal against the 'Canes. Despite a 42-27 shot advantage, the Hurricanes scored three goals to the Canadiens' one. Even then, it was a point shot off the bum that finally got the Canadiens on the board, and it was too little, too late.
On the bright side, the owner of the aforementioned rear end, Michael Bournival, played another excellent game, further cementing his case for some regular season ice time. Bournival extended an unlikely streak of scoring a goal in each and every game he's played for the Habs, a phenomenon that should be enjoyed while it lasts.
While the young centre progresses toward a roster spot, some others were not so lucky. The Canadiens announced three cuts after their skate on Sunday, sending Sebastian Collberg, Michael McCarron, and Dustin Tokarski back to their respective clubs. Collberg will be tasked with bulking up back in Sweden, Tokarski with stabilizing a still-young Bulldogs squad, and McCarron with imposing himself on a league that he has already begun to outgrow, at least physically.
As the preseason enters its final week, the Canadiens have the encouraging news of some of their more important pieces returning to the ice. Brian Gionta and Alexei Emelin have both skated in gear, and while neither is ready to play imminently, their very presence must be encouraging for a group that is in dire need of their services.
Of course, some Canadiens fans may not have noticed that Emelin is yet to play yet in 2013-14. Jarred Tinordi has been doing his best impression of the tank-like Russian, leaving his Carolinian opponents glad that they won't have to incur his wrath until at least New Year's Eve.
With Tinordi looking more and more likely to be the recipient of a place on the Habs blue-line, Montreal will be in the running for a title they haven't contended in many years. The likes of P.K. Subban, Emelin, and Tinordi sharing the same ice leave the Habs with one of the league's hardest-hitting defence corps.
Speaking of P.K. Subban, he should be expected to be the catalyst behind the completion of one Montreal's last outstanding preseason tasks: improving their morose power-play. Of course, placing Subban and Markov on the same blue-line consistently should do wonders, but New Jersey's always stingy kill should offer a considerable challenge.
The Canadiens can also expect some further reinforcements to be available soon, as Nathan Beaulieu is also skating following his shoulder injury. Beaulieu won't skate against the Devils, but his moving around the Brossard ice should provide a sorely-needed good example for Douglas Murray.
The Canadiens opponents tonight, the Devils, will be sporting a different look than the casual observer may be accustomed to. Ilya Kovalchuk has returned to Russia, to be "replaced" by new additions Ryane Clowe and former Hab Michael Ryder. Cory Schneider has been acquired, apparently to form a goaltending platoon with 85-year-old Martin Brodeur, while the Devils have supplemented their offence with still-not-a-Hab Jaromir Jagr. As far as young players, the Devils look to be icing a fairly similar roster to last year. If you're looking for someone to watch, defenceman Adam Larsson remains an up-and-comer.
In keeping with tradition, check-in closer to game time for a game thread and lineup details.