On the first night of their tour of the American southwest, the Canadiens ran into a dominant possession team. The Los Angeles Kings did what they've done all season - they dominated the puck, and won the game by suppressing the Montreal offence to the point of collapse. The Habs kept the game close, but ultimately, it played out exactly as Darryl Sutter imagined it on his whiteboard. Tonight, the Habs will have to stop themselves from befalling a similar fate.
The Anaheim Ducks are different animal than their California cousins. The Kings have a great deal of depth throughout their lineup, but not a huge amount of finishing talent. The Ducks, meanwhile, have two of the league's premier scorers playing on their top line, in Olympians Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Perry and Getzlaf are about as good as it gets in the NHL, putting up ridiculous point totals without the benefit of weak opposition or favourable deployment. The Ducks, as a team, are the NHL's second-leading goal-scoring squad, slotting in behind only the Chicago Blackhawks, a feat largely driven by the Canadian pair. The two Ducks, at 63 and 68 points respectively, are the only Anaheim players with more than forty points on the year. If Montreal wants to win tonight, it Michel Therrien's job to ensure that his opponent's twin stars see as much of Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta as possible.
Perry and Getzlaf will spend tonight breaking in a new linemate, after winger Dustin Penner was dealt to the Washington Capitals for a 4th round pick on Tuesday afternoon. In his last 25 games, the burly Manitoban had managed only 9 points; a remarkable total considering the prolific production of those he most often shared the ice with. His failure to keep pace as the third piece of a formidable top line may be part of the reason why he is no longer in Anaheim, and it will be interesting to see if P&G can create any immediate chemistry with their new running mate.
The Ducks have some nice depth behind their top line as well, starting with the Finnish Flash. Even at an advanced age (by NHL standards), 43-year-old Teemu Selanne remains dangerous alongside youngster Jakob Silfverberg. Selanne took MVP honours at the Olympics as he helped Finland to a bronze medal, demonstrating that he is still able to draw on his talents when he needs to. Selanne has failed to carry the scoring momentum back to California, but still represents the centrepiece of a secondary toughs sort of line that is completed by Matt Beleskey.
Former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, meanwhile, has continued to prove himself a useful contributor, taking a sacrificial role in tough minutes while helping to push linemate Andrew Cogliano toward his first career twenty goal season. No Duck starts his shift in the defensive zone more often than Koivu, while only the top line sees tougher competition. Look for Bruce Boudreau, the recent recipient of the title of fastest NHL coach to 300 wins, to line up the Finnish centre against the Habs best offensive weapons. That means Koivu vs. the Habs exploitation specialists, the Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Brendan Gallagher line, in an interesting battle of Habs talent old and new.
Finally, the Ducks have an interesting fourth line, led by underrated centre Nick Bonino. Bonino slots in as the third or fourth line centre on the depth chart, but he plays an intriguing and versatile role. His ice time is third on the team among forwards, behind only the aforementioned twin pillars of Anaheim hockey, and his 16 goals and 40 points put him in third and fourth on his team, respectively. Pressed into greater service in the absence of the injured Mathieu Perreault, Bonino is a significant contributor on the powerplay while also taking on a shift or two per game on the penalty kill as well.
Carey Price found himself back in the media spotlight after a quick tour of the ice yesterday, but it will be Peter Budaj making his fifth consecutive start this evening against the run-and-gun Ducks (UPDATE: No, it won't. Dustin Tokarski gets his first Montreal start this evening). Budaj, despite earning a 2-1-1 record since the Olympic break, has had a bit of a rougher go since his turn with the Slovakian national team. That said, and a couple of softies aside, Budaj has given the Habs a chance to win every game he's started so far. With Bruce Boudreau likely envisioning a high-scoring Anaheim win, Budaj will have to look to continue that trend tonight.