After a trip and a break from daily Internet, it's a return to the world of bloggery. To start with then, a look at tonight's game and the issues that surround it.
Gionta and Matt Taormina
I don't know if they'll ever lay each other this evening or not. But here you have the Canadiens second line winger and the Devils second pairing weak link. Gionta needs out of a slump and injuries to Salvador, Volchenkov and Salmela give him this gift.
Kovalchuk and Price
Playing now occasionally on the right wing, Kovalchuk is known for getting shots in every game he plays in. And shots from the leading goalscorer since the lockout tend to be deadly accurate. If he streaks down the right, he'll know to shoot high. Price needs to be aware of what he's facing.
Devils forecheck vs. Hamrlik and Spacek
Traditionally a strong forecheck against two who seem to enjoy the forecheck less and less each year. Both Hamrlik and Spacek have a bit of a history to forget against the devils and it will be interesting to see if their troubles this season and from the past can be put aside for a game or not.
Pouliot and Pyatt
I know Pouliot's omission from the second line has more to do with Gomez and Gionta's need for spark, but even so the big man must somehow regain his place in the pecking order. If Pyatt overtakes him this evening, it could be a big setback. Pyatt meanwhile will want to solidify his place with some contribution. He's already the coach's golden boy, if he gets G and G going, there's no telling the currency in good will he gains.
At a glance, it looks to all be in the Habs favour. But beware buying too much into that. The Canadiens have won their last two and managed points in their last four, but the schedulemakers at the NHL have a habit of taking the wind out of sails in October for this team. No game since Saturday means the momentum of that Ottawa win is only as meaningful as the momentum of the report on Pyatt making line 2. The Devils meanwhile look a stinker. But if I asked Felipe Alou, I think he'd tell me to put money on them in their next few games. For a team like the Devils with talent at all positions, a disappointing record is often the last thing you want them to draw on for motivation when you meet them. Strangely, I feel the momentum is even.
Devils the Habs covet
New Jersey educated and a dynamic scorer to boot. Kovalchuk has all the press right now, but this Devils team's real diamond is Parise who has seldom disappointed when I've sat down to watch him.
As players changed in New Jersey over the years, results stayed strangely consistent.Brodeur's been there through tick and thick of course. Colin White has too. Quietly, the core defender on the Devils has made a solid career out of keeping play clean in his zone. If Montreal doesn't covet a defender like this, they should.
Habs the Devils covet
The talented puck-mover they've missed since Niedermayer turned tail. And more importantly injured to start the season, allowing them to play salary tricks while making a better roster for the playoffs.
For the first time in years, the Devils line up without Jay Pandolfo. Not to say he's irreplaceable, but I'm sure they'd like to have replaced him. Pyatt isn't that player yet, but he could be trained to Pandolfo efficiency in NJ and probably always keep his low price tag. To go with their flash and salary up front, the Devils need some balance on the cheap.
If Montreal lose:
- Markov is injured
- Quebec goalie
- Devils are one of the elite teams in the NHL
- Weren't ready to start the game
If New Jersey lose:
- Kovalchuk is destroying the team
- Brian Rolston's salary
- Quebec posts turned on Brodeur
Impact of this result
Until now games have been relatively meaningless. And they will continue to mean little for a long while. However, this game has the potential to be important to both teams going forward.
For the Habs, with a history of allowing the devils to walk in and take points, and no doubt helping them out of slumps on many occasions, this game could prove that time is over. Kicking the Devils while they're down, and particularly contributing to Brodeur's bad start could banish a significant bugaboo for this team. Needless to say, turning the trick would be beneficial to Carey again, as beating a Hall-of-Famer is always a boost.
For the devils, a win here could really kick start their road to recovery. A small win, perhaps not. A big win, certainly. If Brodeur gets his customary support from former Forum ghosts, then his slump too might be a thing for memory.