The Montreal Canadiens will have their home opening game tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning and there are plenty of storylines to pay attention to.
Tampa traditionally represents a formidable challenge for the Canadiens, largely due to the presence of French-Canadian superstars including Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis. These guys just love to play against, and beat, the Habs, and year after year –whether their team is good or bad — they always make things difficult for the Canadiens.
Tonight, however, there are a ton of addition angles to this game, not least of which is the fact that this will be the Canadiens home opener.
The Canadiens are coming home with a one-and-one split on the road, buoyed by an outstanding effort by goaltender Carey Price, and you know that they want to provide their rabid fans with the first home win of the season. In addition, Brian Gionta will be playing his first home game as captain of the Canadiens and he is sure to want to keep that crowd smiling.
The Canadiens will be getting reinforcements on the back end in the form of Roman Hamrlik. His presence is sure to help stabilize a so far questionable — at times — defensive corp. On a similar note, very unofficial word from the Team 990′s Tony Marinaro says that star defenseman, Andrei Markov, could make a return to the lineup as early at Saturday’s match up against the Ottawa Senators.
But I digress.
Despite all of the drama, the storyline of the night is Tampa’s coach Guy Boucher, coaching his first game against the Habs.
For those who have been hiding under a rock, Boucher previously coached the Canadiens AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, to within a game of the Calder Cup finals. Moreover, there was a lot of angst during the offseason when the Canadiens failed to make him part of the coaching staff in Montreal and instead opted to let him go to the Lightning. As Eric Engels previously pointed out, Boucher knows large swathes of this team from his days in Hamilton and he’s sure to do everything in his power to down his former organization.
The other storyline that I feel will be most prominent, is the play of Carey Price. He started the season with a loss in Toronto on a solid goaltending performance but in a situation where his teammates simply could not score enough goals in front of him. Price followed up that performance with a stupendous 36 save effort two nights later in Pittsburgh, to steal two points from the Penguins.
After the game, Jacques Martin, in front of all of the other players in the dressing room, said that the victory belonged to Price, and he gave him the game puck to applause from his teammates. The move is a smart one by a veteran coach who knows that Price is a player who confidence is fragile and perhaps needs a little stroking.
So how will Price respond? Tune in tonight to find out.