Quebec’s finest hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens, welcomes a fellow Canadian side, the Winnipeg Jets, to the Bell Centre tonight (Tuesday) with both in search of a fourth straight victory at this early stage of the season. Since a close-fought defeat to division rival Toronto on opening night, the Habs have won three in a row, defeating Florida, Washington and New Jersey (all three of which made the postseason in 2012). The Jets, in their second season back in the NHL, lost their opening two matches, before posting wins over Washington, the Penguins and the Islanders.
It’s been a positive start to this campaign for both of these outfits, who failed to make the playoffs last time around. Montreal look to have established themselves some character, much improved from last season’s somewhat broken side. Carey Price is back to his best in between the pipes. He’s recorded 1.73 goals against average and a save percentage of .936. Price looks comfortable out on the ice and strong across the crease.
The Canadiens’ number one goaltender is now playing again behind Andrei Markov, who seems to have rediscovered his offensive talent and power play quarterbacking abilities, notching four goals so far. 27-year-old Raphael Diaz is also playing well on the back-end. Rookie forward Alex Galchenyuk is enjoying a promising start to his NHL career and young Brendan Gallagher scored his first goal in the win over the Devils. Both look composed and confident on the ice already and will remain with the roster. One negative for the Habs is the injury to top line forward Max Pacioretty, who had an appendectomy and will now miss 3-4 weeks, which is a long time in this shortened season.
The big talking-point in Montreal in recent times has been the P.K. Subban situation and this has perhaps overshadowed the strong rebound that the team has made in 2013. Finally, though, Subban has put pen to paper on a new two-year deal with the Habs. An already elite but still up-and-coming defenseman, he was a player that they couldn’t afford to lose from the roster. The reason for the length of time needed for P.K. to sign a new deal was believed to be that Montreal weren’t prepared to pay him enough. Looking at the contract though, it’s still an absolute bargain for the most successful NHL team in history. $2 million this year and then $3.75 million the year after. Having Subban in the line-up is only going to improve this Canadiens team. He won’t be part of the game against the Jets but will be likely to return against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
Winnipeg is enjoying a balanced start to the season, with points being spread across the board. Big Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane and Tobias Enstrom are all tied with six points, with Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler each have five. They’ve also showed everyone their battling abilities as they came from two goals behind in their last two home games, at the still incredibly loud MTS Centre, to triumph. Those are games that perhaps they wouldn’t have won last season.
So, we have two teams that are trying to bounce back from disappointment last season. Montreal, particularly, had a woeful 2011-12, as they finished dead last in the East. Home form is so crucial to both sides. They have two of the loudest buildings in the league, with some of the most passionate fans to drive them on. Once the fans are behind the team at the Bell Centre, it’s tough for the opposition to fight back in matches. Away form well and truly let Winnipeg down last season and that is a key area that they need to improve in, and there are not many more intimidating barns to play in than at Montreal. It’s an all-Canadian affair between Claude Noel’s Winnipeg Jets and Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre. Every game of this 48-game campaign is vital.