Last season, Phoenix were the shock entry in the NHL circuit. A franchise with no money and few incentives to go for took a middling group of veterans to a 100+ point finish. Last season, Montreal played Phoenix once and won. Price played and won. The Coyotes never visited Montreal, so in a way it’s like their season might never have happened at all.
As they roll into town tonight, the Coyotes are in tough. Their offseason improvements included the additions of 38-year-old Ray Whiney and 21-year-old Kyle Turris. Otherwise, they return the same team that rode fortune to a successful close last year. My personal feeling is that this team was a flash in the pan. Doan is not suddenly a born leader. We get a chance to see for ourselves tonight.
Subban and Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Two very highly touted young blueliners with long names. Although they are unlikely to come face to face at any point in the game, this match-up allows us to watch the potential futures of two powerplays in bud.
Taylor and Tom Pyatt
This will be the second time these two brothers have ever faced off against each other in NHL game action. Last time, Tom played a whopping 15:02 to Taylor’s 9:45. They may both be on a top line, they may both be on a 4th line. Who knows? Maybe they’ll fight.
Bryzgalov and Price
Waivers vs. high draft pick. It’s an interesting match because both teams depend on their goaltending to take them from mediocrity to slightly better than mediocre NHL teams. They represent two ways of goalie acquisition, two methods of goalie development and a range of other contrasts.
(Shane Doan and the Montreal crowd)
This would have been good, but the player managed to arrange a suspension. One opposition player with alleged history of anti-Quebec tendencies. One crowd who loves to boo members of this extended family. Have the crowd forgotten? Will they find a way to boo him anyway? They still boo Bush’s decision to start the Iraq war, so you tell me.
For the first time, I feel the Habs have the momentum. And, although what Tobalev said about one game impacting the next is dead on, the very fact that price’s team gave him a game on a platter and he returned them a shining shutout means these guys might actually be pulling in the same direction for the first time in a long time. That and the fact that Phoenix is currently stagnating. Still enjoying a season of overachievement, they have done little to address the way in which they intend to do the repeat.
Coyotes the Habs covet
A pretty phenomenal record as a coach to go with his Jack Adams trophy win. He must know a thing or two about the trade to have pulled the tricks he has out of the bag.
How Gauthier missed this boat nobody knows. 13+ goals for a checking line player in his last 7 seasons to go with plenty more assists. Lemaire educated and paid a pittance. He got Halpern instead.
Habs the Coyotes covet
Phoenix may have a few wingers that would look good on the 4th slot on many teams, but their centres aren’t an attractive list. Plekanec is showing again that he’s a top asset at his position, and be rightly coveted by many teams.
You think the Habs had it bad in 2003 with the Kostitsyn pick? The Coyotes, an abysmal team in 2002-03 (and well beyond) traded their 11th overall draft pick that year in a trade I can’t track down, but that clearly didn’t work out that well. They’d have had Carter at 11, but at this stage would be happy to have even Kostitsyn as their NHL-free draft class of 2003 is still headed by Tyler Redenbach.
If Montreal lose:
- We won Saturday
- Markov is injured
- Paul Bissonnette’s rump wasn’t properly guarded against
- Phoenix are a 100-point team
If Phoenix lose:
- Doan is suspended
- Doan was still booed in the press box
- Doan asked that the team let his cousin win
Impact of this result
The NHL is tight, and the Northeast even tighter. The Canadiens need to take advantage of games against random rival like Phoenix to pad their lead against the eventual resurgences of New Jersey, Ottawa and Buffalo. The impact of this game might not be playoffs or not, but at the end of the day, these two points could look very good in February/March.
The same goes for Phoenix of course. The difference being that Phoenix doesn’t expect the way Montreal does. If they sneak an 8th spot, it may be just as good to the first-time April visitors to the arena as a 1st place barnstorming.