This is a shot of the Bell Centre, the new "shrine" of hockey, where 24 Stanley Cup banners and seventeen retired jerseys hang in the rafters (18 if you count Gretzky) as a reminder of their past glory and domination. The Montreal Forum was the cathedral of hockey.
Luckily I had a chance to see one game in the fabled Forum, and when I toured the rink prior to the game you could feel the history, and the walls definitely had a winning feeling. The Bell Centre doesn’t have the same feel, but for opposing players it is still the rink that every player wants to play in.
Tonight Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi will play their first game in Montreal (Peckham played there last year) and prior to leaving on this trip I asked them about Montreal. Hall, who has a great appreciation for the history of the game, seemed the most excited and honoured to play there.
"They have so much history. Twenty-four Cups and some of the greatest players and teams the NHL has ever seen, and for me to get to play there as an Oiler, because of our great history, will make it even more special," said Hall.
I’d expect the kids to have a little more gas in the tank tonight.
The Oilers, specifically Sam Gagner and Paajarvi, will get a boost tonight with Ales Hemsky returning to the lineup after missing three games due to a strained groin. I suspect Tom Renney will stick with his top-three lines, barring injury, for the foreseeable future. Dustin Penner, Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano are playing well as a trio, while Hall and Eberle play best with Shawn Horcoff. If Hemsky’s presence can get Paajarvi going Renney will be extremely happy.
Hemsky was playing well before tweaking his groin, and if Paajarvi can’t get going offensively playing with Hemsky he might need a quick stint in Oklahoma. Paajarvi has been better since playing only 5:33 in Anaheim, and he and Hemsky looked good together in the preseason, so along with Gagner they should generate some offence.
Tonight might not be the best night to look for an offensive explosion. The Canadiens have the best GAA in the league at a paltry 1.96. They have only given up 47 goals in 24 games. Carey Price has started 22 of the Habs’ 24 games, and he has started all 14 home games. In those 14 games he has a stellar 0.927 SV% and a 2.00 GAA. In his last seven home starts Price has three shutouts and has surrendered only seven goals. He has been lights out at home the past two weeks.
While their defensive numbers are great, their offensive numbers are the opposite. The Habs are 23rd in the NHL averaging 2.50 goals/game. The Oilers are 19th at 2.56, and on paper it says you shouldn’t expect a lot of goals, but whenever the Habs and Oilers play in Montreal the games are exciting. The teams have averaged a combined seven goals a game since 2000 and last year they played a thriller with the Habs winning 5-4 in a shootout.
Devan Dubnyk lost that game to Jaroslav Halak and tonight he will get a chance to redeem himself v. Price. Colin Fraser, JF Jacques and Ryan Jones will make up the 4th line, while the defence pairings remain the same.
- With the rumblings that the Bruins might loan Tyler Seguin to Canada for the junior tournament, some are suggesting the Oilers should do the same with Paajarvi. Take a deep breath and ask how playing against kids will help Paajarvi? If he continues to struggle offensively, a trip to the AHL would be much more beneficial than his third WJCs. At least in the AHL he is playing against men. He needs to adapt to the strength of the NHL and he won’t do that against junior players.
- Martin Gerber is a great feel-good story, but Renney made the right call going back to Dubnyk tonight. He is the future, and if the process involves developing their young forwards they have to do the same with Dubnyk. Let the kid start four or five games in a row. Gerber was re-assigned to Oklahoma today, because they activated Khabibulin and Gerber was on an emergency recall.
- If this is a scare tactic, it is a stupid one. I understand if the Oilers are frustrated with negotiations regarding a new rink, but meeting with Quebec about relocation; PLEASE. No way in hell Gary Bettman ever lets the Oilers leave Edmonton, and it makes less sense for the Oilers to relocate to Quebec where they have less corporations and 300,000 fewer people. The Oilers should stand up and say the only reason for this meeting is to find out how much federal money Quebec will get from the rink, and ensure that they get the same.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are young enough and naive enough to ride their 4-1 victory in Ottawa to an excting 4-3 win tonight. I know it makes no sense to think the Oilers can win two straight on the road, but…
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are 3-0 when Cogliano scores, and he loves playing the Habs with three goals in four career games. Cogliano continues his hot streak with another goal tonight and Hall also rips home a powerplay goal enroute to the win.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: During the pre-game ceremony (I’m sure they will have one, since it seems they have one every second game) the Habs will honour Jaroslav Spacek for playing in his 800th game. The Oiler players take it as a slap in the face that they have to watch a video montage of a guy for playing 800 games, and during the game many of them take big runs at Spacek.
Doug Jarvis happens to be in the building and is livid that Spacek gets honoured, when Jarvis once played 964 consecutive games and only got a plaque for his accomplishment. In the 2nd intermission Jarvis is seen talking with Renney, and the former Habs assistant diagrams a PP formation for Renney to use in the 3rd. Renney draws it up on the chalkboard, and the Oilers score a 3rd period PP with Spacek in the box.