Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens vs Florida Panthers

Jose Theodore isn't starting, but Alex Kovalev makes his return to the Bell Centre. We talked to Panthers' SBN affiliate Litter Box Cats about the upcoming game.

In keeping with the new idea of SB Nation cooperation, we talked to Kevin Kraczkowski of Litter Box Cats about the upcoming game tonight and asked him 5 questions. Here they are:

1) Carolina was lauded as one of the most improved teams in the league this year, and many predicted them to win the South East division, how much fun was it to blow them out in the first game and remind them who won the division last year?

After waiting so far past the normal interval for normal regular season hockey, it was...cathartic to say the least. The LBC discussion thread was overflowing with relief. As far as sticking it to the "contender" for the throne. It was pretty cool. They say that the Stanley Cup Champion is the top dog until someone knocks him off. I think the same applies to the Southeast Division crown as well, and the Panthers proved it on Saturday. Last night....not so much.

2) After years of floundering near the bottom of the standings, the Panthers finally look like their building towards something. Do you guys feel some growth in the fanbase down there?

You can see it in the attendance figures, the television ratings, and the random smattering of Panthers apparel visible in and around the South Florida area (or so I've heard). I run a FB fanpage called Florida Panther Nation - and after a year with 100 "likes," it jumped up to 250 over the last few weeks. All the talk of NHL armageddon/implosion over the lockout turned out to be just so much hot air. Maybe the NHL lost some fans on the fence, but I think the "return of hockey" whetted some appetites for the greatest sport on earth. It wasn't just in Florida either - the NHL sold out 11 of it's 13 opening night games, and the average attendance from opening night dropped less than 1% from that of last seasons figures. It's not embarrassing to be a Panthers fan anymore.

3) With Theodore and Clemmensen still on the team this year, is Jacob Markstrom ever going to get a chance to play?

I may be the only one saying this, and I may be wrong, but it's my belief that Florida has three NHL calibre goaltenders. That means one of them is trade bait. The future is undeniably Jacob Markstrom, and Scott Clemmensen just signed a two year extension onto his deal prior to the lockout. That leaves starter Jose Theodore as the most viable trade option between the pipes. I could concievable see the Panthers shopping Theo for a similarly aged scoring forward before this season's trade deadline.

4) Speaking of Theodore, he almost always blows it against Montreal. Do you think he gets the start on Tuesday? He's coming off of a great game, but Clemmensen is historically much better against us.

Against the Habs, Theo is 2-2-1 over six games with a shutout. That hardly seems like he's blowing it. However, upon further examination of the figures (.861 save percentage, 4.60 GAA), it's clear your theory holds creedence. Theo got beat four times (33-of-37) in Ottawa last night, so all indications point to Clemmensen getting the start. He boasts a 6-0-0 record, a 1.68 GAA, and a .940 save percentage against the Habs. Those are Jonathan Quick 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff numbers.

5) After a 3 point game to open the season, what are you guys expecting from Alex Kovalev this year? We know all too well how great he can be, but he's also 40 years old. Can he keep up with Huberdeau for all 48 games?

Ideally, yes. It'd be nice to think old man Kovy can fool Father Time into thinking he has one more all-star calibre season in him. Unfortunately, I feel the sands of time have worn him down in recent years. He hasn't been a great player since he left the Habs after the 2008-09 campaign. Short term - he's a great fit to give the kid a feel for the NHL game. He has a lot to teach young Jonathan Huberdeau before he fades away into the night. On the minus side, this isn't Teemu Selanne we're talking about here. If I'm being honest with myself, I'd be surprised to see more than an eight goal, 16 assist season for the old man. This all changes if the Panthers make the playoffs. In the big show, Kovalev averages .81 PPG throughout his now 19-season career. I don't think a point per game is too far outside the realm of possibility.

I also answered five questions for LBC, you can find that article here.

The Southeast Division winning Panthers are now 1-1-0 this season, and represent a bigger challenge than Toronto did on Saturday. Not great news when you consider how the Canadiens played against the Leafs.

More bad news comes as Michel Therrien has decided to scratch Lars Eller and push Alex Galchenyuk to center on the third line. Nothing like breaking in a rookie by changing his role every night, eh? Brendan Gallagher will play his first game as a Montreal Canadien on Galchenyuk's wing.

Montreal went 0-3-1 against the Panthers last season, scoring just 7 goals in 4 games. Erik Cole was the most dangerous Hab with 3 goals and 1 assist in the season series, but he was also a -3. David Desharnais may have been the best Canadien in the series with 1 goal, 3 assists and an even rating.

Carey Price went 0-1-1 against the Panthers last year with a 1.95 GAA and .943 save percentage. Yes, he stopped 94.3% of the Panthers' shots but the team couldn't get him a win. Seriously.

As mentioned by Kevin though, Clemmensen has a scary good history against the Canadiens.

Last year the two most dangerous Panthers against the Habs were Stephen Weiss with 2 goals and 2 assists, and Tomas Fleischman with 3 goals.

The Panthers haven't been very sound defensively so far this season though, allowing 79 shots in just two games, (39.5 per game). It's possible that the Habs could pounce on that.

Healthy scratches for tonight are Lars Eller, Michael Blunden, and Yannick Weber.

Injuries: Petteri Nokelainen

Other: P.K. Subban is still not playing due to not having a contract.

Game time is 7:30PM EST and the game is on RDS only.

Go Habs Go!

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