Who: Montreal Canadiens (8-6-0)
When: Tonight, 10:00PM EST/8:00PM MDT
Your Starting Goalies: COL – J.S.Giguere (3-0-0), MTL — Peter Budaj (2-0-0)
The Dangermen: This group doesn’t have a superstar offensively (yet), but they get scoring from everywhere and you can’t take a shift off against them.
Leading the way is Thomas Pleckanec with his 11 points in 14 games. He and captain Brian Gionta are the conscience and leadership of the Canadiens; they combine with Michael Bournival for 26 points through 14 games. They provide a dangerous, experienced second line for the Habs that plays smart, two-way hockey in addition to their offensive prowess.
The group to watch is the top line of Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher. With 28 points combined, you can see this group coming into their own. Eller started like a house of ire before cooling off, but the duo of Gallagher and Galchenyuk are building on their solid rookie seasons last year and growing into very dangerous players. Galchenyuk has superstar potential and it’s becoming more and more apparent.
The Habs are missing their best forward in Max Pacioretty. He’s day-to-day with a hamstring injury, giving the Avalanche one less headache to deal with.
A dangerman for a whole other reason is enforcer George Parros. The Avs don’t have anyone to match up with him physically, though they probably won’t need to. He’s just a looming threat normally with a giant mustache.
The Defenders: The scoring for the Habs doesn’t end up front. Reigning and defending Norris Trophy winner P.K.Subban is leading the team in assists (10) and points (13) through 14 games. He’s blossomed into a superstar on the blueline the last few years and is as dangerous as they come. He’s a smart passer with an absolute bomb of a shot from the point. He’s likely going to do his damage regardless of how well the Avalanche play. It’s just a matter of how much.
His partner and former “best defenseman in Montreal”, Andrei Markov, is also very dangerous offensively (he has 8 points). A strong passer, he and Subban work well together. They are complimented by smaller but very smart defenders Raphael Diaz and Josh Gorges. This group can get itself out of many jams with it’s skating and the Avs forwards need to be on their toes.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: This is normally Carey Price’s job, but he gets the night off so the Avalanche will get backup Peter Budaj instead. He’s only seen two starts this season, but he’s been sterling: 2-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .982 save percentage and a shutout. Like Giguere, the Avs starter, he’s been around the block.
He’s not going to keep that pace up, obviously, but it only matters for tonight when he faces the Avs. Getting the puck on him early and often, getting action in his face and testing him at every opportunity will be key for the Avalanche if they want to improve their NHL-best record to 12-1-0.
How the Avs match up: Both teams are on the back end of a back-to-back, with the Avalanche coming off a 3-2 overtime win in Dallas on Friday while the Habs dropped a 4-3 decision to the Minnesota Wild. The biggest key, at least according to Montreal’s captain Gionta, is that the team is inconsistent. They don’t put together 60 minutes of complete hockey often.
Ideally, the Avalanche will be fired up tonight and press the action early. Adam Foote is having his number retired and the atmosphere will be electric. If the Avalanche can get one early, this one may never be in doubt. The key is to push the pace, get physical with the smaller Habs defenders, and STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.
Key Matchup: STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX (again).
Cower in fear if: The Habs get one early to quiet the crowd.
Giggy looks human for once.
Young Habs forwards are getting consistent pressure.
Laugh maniacally if: Giggy is not human, but a being from a Super Quebec Race that sees pucks bounce off them from all angles.
STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.
The forwards fly all over the place, getting into the heads of the Habs defensemen.
Silly predictions: Duchene has another “did he seriously do that?” moment (we can leave this here for now); Budaj looks a little more human; Subban scores a power play goal; so does Andre Benoit; Nathan MacKinnon scores for the first time in forever.
Final: 3-1 Avalanche
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