Thursday, December 15, 2011

Your Canadiens for December 15, 2011

The Montreal Canadiens host the Philadelphia Flyers this evening at what would seem like the best possible moment. The Flyers are without their #1 defenseman Chris Pronger and also without the NHL's leading point-getter Claude Giroux, both sidelined with injuries. But we've all seen enough from the Habs to know that nothing is a given, so it's sure to still be a challenge tonight, as the Flyers come to town on a 6-game win streak and holding the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

- Travis Moen, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez are all out with injuries tonight, meaning the following forward lines after Mike Blunden was called up yesterday:

Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Andrei Kostitsyn
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Mike Blunden - Petteri Nokelainen - Yannick Weber

Don't expect that fourth line to get much ice time, even with Petteri Nokelainen coming off his best game as a Hab. If all three injured forwards are going to miss considerable time, it seems that Pierre Gauthier will have no choice but to bring in some added depth.

With injuries to Gionta and Moen, the team is scrambling to find replacements for the penalty kill. It seems Louis Leblanc may have earned a shift down a man, while Blunden may be tried there as well. Leblanc's two-way play leaves little doubt that he will eventually be a strong penalty killer, but it is perhaps uncharacteristic of Martin to trust a green rookie with such duties.

Blunden's call-up poses another issue, in that after playing tonight's game he would have to clear waivers to re-join the Hamilton Bulldogs. While I don't think there is a huge risk of him being claimed by another team, given the lack of depth in terms of bottom 6 toughness at the pro ranks, Gauthier may decide to keep him in Montreal for a while rather than risk losing him.

- On defense, Raphal Diaz is out sick. That means Alexei "BOOM!" Emelin returns to the line-up, again forming the vaunted #KabBoom pairing with Tomas Kaberle. The full D looks like:

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Chris Campoli
Tomas Kaberle - Alexei Emelin

Since Emelin is again stuck on his uncomfortable right side, I am very curious to know what Jacques Martin would have done had Diaz been healthy. Emelin's size, strength, and physicality are needed all the more against a team like the Flyers, so one would hope he would found a spot in the line-up either way.

I still think the team needs to find a way to play him on the left. Many are opposed to splitting up Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban, but I see no issue with it really. They may log big minutes, but they haven't even played 30 games together, so it's not like they're joined at the hip. Martin has referred to them as a top shutdown pair, but Subban doesn't belong on a true shutdown duo at this point. Gorges is the left D who is most comfortable on right, so I'd like to see more balanced pairings with him shifting over.

- The Flyers are part of this season's "24/7," the HBO documentary series that follows the two teams playing in the Winter Classic as a build up to the actual game. Thus, there are camera crews following the team in Montreal, and the Habs will be "featured" in one of the show's episodes.

- I wonder if Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr remembers this #EmelinBoom from the World Championship. Hopefully Mr. Emelin can give us a repeat tonight.

- Last night, the Hamilton Bulldogs dropped a 2-1 decision in a shootout to the Lake Erie Monsters. Alexander Avtsin, with his 4th of the year, on the powerplay, had the only tally for the 'Dogs. Gabriel Dumont was awarded a penalty shot with 46 seconds to play in regulation, but was stopped by former Hamilton star Cedrick Desjardins. All 5 Hamilton Bulldog shooters were stopped in the shootout, while notorious first round bust Hugh Jessiman was the only player to beat Nathan Lawson, good enough for the win. Despite being held off the scoresheet, leading all skaters with 6 shots on goal, Bulldogs leading scorer Brian Willsie was named the game's first star.

- As I covered yesterday, the Canadiens will have three players on Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships (Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu, and Michael Bournival). This is more than any other NHL team, and is the first time the Habs have had 3 prospects on the club since 2000 (Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, and Eric Chouinard).

Two other young future Habs seem poised to make their national teams, being defenseman Jarred Tinordi with Team USA, and center Daniel Pribyl with the Czech Republic. Tinordi should be an important shutdown d-man for the Americans with some talk he may get consideration for team captain. Tinordi, captain of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League, previously captained the U.S. Under 18 team. Pribyl, who turns 19 in 3 days, seems penciled in for a 4th line role with the Czechs.

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