The Canadiens play at home for the first time this season tonight when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is shaping up to be a game with many story-lines. It is always of interest when Tampa travels to Quebec given the legendary status of both Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier in their home province. This year there is added hype due to the off-season acquisition of Simon Gagne, as well Head Coach Guy Boucher and his former Bull-Dogs staff.
The Habs have taken 5 of the last 8 meetings at the Bell Centre, although there is the pervasive feeling that both Lecavalier and St Louis (and now Gagner) seem to find a way to elevate their game when in town. It will be interesting to see what kinds of moves Boucher makes to try to win for the first time in Montreal as an NHL Head Coach. Certainly on paper he has the talent up front to make things very difficult for a defense that will welcome Roman Hamrlik to the lineup for the first time this season. It is believed that Alex Picard will sit to allow Hamrlik to move into the last pairing with Ryan O’Byrne.
Speaking of O’Byrne, this may be an excellent opportunity for the big guy to ensure that he continues to get playing time when our injured defense returns. If he can play well, he will not need to worry about Picard taking his place – or whether he will be expendable for a trade at some point in the year. Though there has been lots of talk about being the odd man out, I really believe that Montreal needs to stick by him, considering that Hamrlik and Gill will be UFA’s at the end of the year – Montreal will prefer to promote O’B for cheap rather than replace those players via free agency.
I’ll also be watching the Gomez-Gionta-Pouliot line closely tonight. Yes, Gomez scored the winning goal the other night – but it was also his first shot of the regular season! There is no excuse for going nearly two full games without a shot on net for a guy who has the kind of talent that Gomez has. Gionta was made captain to lead by example, and Pouliot has everything to prove. If there is one line that needs to play tonight like they are properly motivated it is the #1.
Go Habs Go!!!