Tonight the Montreal Canadiens welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby to the Bell Centre for their first game of 2006. This date has been highlighted ever since the NHL schedule was announced. Sidney Crosby was a long time Canadiens fan and he dreamed about playing for the Canadiens, the same team that drafted his father. This is the first game of his career in Montreal and 2nd against the Habs, in the first he scored a highlight reel shootout goal to win the game and tonight he will surely be ready to go again. Michel Therrien also makes his return to Montreal this time as Coach of the Penguins, he will no doubt want to send a message himself to the team that fired him.
The Canadiens start the New Year fresh and trying to regain the success they found earlier in the season and forget their recent slide. The slide has put them in a dangerous spot. The Habs are currently sitting in 8th spot in the Eastern Conference after Tampa Bay passed them and the surging Atlanta Thrashers are knocking right on the door. The Thrashers have their #1 star goalie healthy again and the difference is already being felt as they knocked off the Senators 8-3. They won’t go away. The Canadiens hold a few games in hand on each team and will have to put them to use to stay competitive in the Conference.
The good news for the Habs, the team is healthier than they have been in a long time and the top line of Koivu, Zednik and Kovalev will finally get a chance to play again. When this line was healthy and firing, the Canadiens were a winning team and had their season high 5 game winning streak. Radek Bonk is set to return shortly although no one knows if that will make a difference as he has been virtually invisible all season.
Trade rumors are everpresent and speculation increasing as the Canadiens are shuffling around their roster demoting Perezhogin to Hamilton and recalling Andrei Kostitsyn, Jonathan Ferland and defenseman Jean-Philippe CÃ´tÃ©. No one really knows why as their are fewer roster spots available as the team is healthy and no real room. If the Canadiens don’t turn it around in January there most certainly will be some kind of move made to change things around.
Until then the Canadiens go tonight against an improving but definitely beatable Penguins team.