Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Your Canadiens for January 3, 2012

As the Canadiens prepare to begin a month filled primarily with home games Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets, coach Randy Cunneyworth has shuffled his deck at practice, coming up with the following lines:

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

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Hal Gill - Tomas Kaberle

Strange to see that Mike Blunden remains in the top 9, likely to get big minutes for a second straight game. The top 6 has a new look, but the only change, truly, is flipping Andrei Kostitsyn and Erik Cole. Expect them to swap back if these units don't work out.

On defense, these duos are probably the best the Habs can ice until Andrei Markov returns. Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban have been used as the top pairing for most of the year, while Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz have developed nice chemistry and continue to develop as legitimate NHL defenders. Emelin also gets to play on his natural left side where he has been best. Finally, the bottom pairing includes a penalty killing specialist in Hal Gill and a powerplay guy in Tomas Kaberle. The pair is likely to get limited minutes 5-on-5, but when they do get ice time, Gill can cover for where Kaberle lacks defensively.

- Returning to practice today for the first time since his injury was captain Brian Gionta. He skated hard and was not wearing a "no contact" jersey, but was only alternating in for wingers on the fourth line, indicating he may not be ready to return just yet. If he handles this step well, however, Saturday would not be impossible.

- Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu, Michael Bournival, and their Team Canada 'mates will take on Team Russia in the World Junior Championships semi-finals at 9PM Eastern this evening. Russia advanced to the Semis after topping the Czech Republic in overtime in a classic goaltender's dual yesterday. Beaulieu should be in the line-up despite taking a puck to the face on Saturday night against the United States, resulting in these less-than-flattering photos being Tweeted by his teammates Devante Smith-Pelly and Jonathan Huberdeau:

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