Fifteen points separate your Habs from their Wednesday night opponents and i wonder aloud: does that really matter? How much of a factor is that really as far as the Montreal Canadiens are concerned? If history has anything to do with it, this may be a blessing more than anything else. Montreal has a reputation for playing to the level of the opposition so things bode well for your Habs. The Boston Bruins have amassed 70 points, good enough for second place in the East and fourth overall. Not bad. Not bad at all.
This is a team that had everyone scratching their heads for a good long while after the Stanley Cup hangover should have subsided…there were talks about moving players, there were talks about changing coaches…troubled team talk. Look at ‘em now, though…something just clicked and look: there they are near the top of the standings…and i must confess to being fascinated by the whole process largely because nothing concrete changed…they just started winning and never really looked back. I kinda wish that the same thing could have happened to my 12th place team and i can only find comfort in the knowledge that our time will come as well…eventually…
The month of February, though, has not been entirely kind to the Bruins. The team has played 6 games thus far and has lost 4 of those contests. In three of the 4 losses, the Bruins failed to score a single goal. Carolina, Buffalo, and the Rangers walked away with shutouts. Is this team ripe for the pickin’ or what?? Well, not so fast…despite their catastrophic start out of the gate and their mediocre February, the big, bad Bruins have managed 11 more victories than Le Club de Hockey Canadien. Barring a post-season engagement, this will be the final contest between these squads. Boston has emerged victorious in three of the five matchups to date. It should be noted that Montreal has been credited with awakening the hibernating beast when they defeated Boston twice in a row Oct. 27th and 29th. The Bruins, apparently having been snapped out of their stupor, then went on to win 10 games in a row before losing to Detroit in a shootout.
So, what to expect for tonight? To be honest, i do not have a clue how this one will go. One can argue that the Habs will want to make up for the Monday’s disheartening loss to the Hurricanes but certainly the Bruins will also be looking to erase the memories of a 3-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. I do predict, however, that a goaltending duel for the ages will be witnessed by anyone watching the action. Price vs. Thomas? Pretty sweet! Budaj vs. Rask ? Should be just as good. Both backup netminders are eager for icetime and can play starting roles on other teams. Actually, Rask is approaching his 99th game played and his 50th victory. I`m certain that he will achieve both of these milestones this year. What is less certain is the team that he will be playing for when this happens. Apparently he is disgruntled with his icetime. Imagine just how he would feel playing in Montreal behind Carey Price who has started 12 more games than number 1 goaltender Tim Thomas has for the Bruins??!! The Bruins, though, would be insane to trade him!
Two of the Bruins qualify as top-50 point getters. Patrice Bergeron ranks 34 with 47 points (16 goals and 31 assists) and Tyler Seguin occupies the 45th position with 44 points (20 goals and 24 assists). Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens has 43 points (23 goals and 20 assists) good enough for 49th ranking. Eric Cole does not crack the top 50 but he does have 42 points. For an organization that considers itself, in the words of head coach Claude Julien, a “checking team”, the Bruins also do a heckuva job putting pucks into the opponent’s net. They rank second in the league in goals scored with 184. Only Detroit has scored more often (185). Further, this team is not just about firepower. They defend the net pretty well too. Only two teams, namely the NY Rangers and the St. Louis Blues have allowed fewer than the 113 goals that the Boston roster has surrendered. The combination of offensive, defensive, and netminding ability allow the Bruins to boast a stellar plus-minus differential of +61 which blows very single team out of the water. Isn`t that what it`s all about: scoring a lot and allowing only a few? Works for me…incidentally, the Canadiens have potted 32 less goals and sport a differential of minus-2.
As far as special teams are concerned no one could touch Montreal in terms of their success at killing penalties. While Montreal ranks 1st overall in this regard, Boston ranks 7th. The power play, while showing signs of life, remains the Achilles Heel for the Habs who rank 28th. How can a team that used to set the upper limit for this statistic only have scored 29 times in 211 man-advantage opportunities?!! The Bruins certainly hold the edge in this critical aspect of the game. They rank 11th.
Will Ryan White finally play?!! This has not yet been announced as i go to press with this submission. How about Ian Schultz who arrived as part of the infamous Halak for Price deal. Both are up from Hamilton. Yannick Weber and Travis Moen are still listed as questionable so we might see one or both of the call-ups in action. I believe that Ryan White can bring an intensity that will be necessary against the physical Boston team.
Obviously Marc Savard will not be suiting up for the Bruins. What a shame that yet another player`s career is destroyed by concussions that are plaguing the game. Nathan Horton, also out with a concussion will not be involved in the tussle. He has 32 points in 46 games so surely the Bruins will be missing his services.
OK, enough said! Let`s get on with it: GO HABS GO!!!!