Monday, October 13, 2008

Would the real Habs please stand up

So, which of the two versions of the Canadiens we've seen so far is closer to the real thing?

Is it the one that looked somewhat lethargic and disorganized in Buffalo Friday night? Or the one that made the hapless Maple Leafs look dizzy in Toronto on Saturday?

My guess is we'll have a better idea of which one's which after tonight's game in Philly, for many reasons. First of all, this represents a mental challenge for the Habs to walk into the same barn that gave the guys nightmares most of the summer, starting with Carey Price. Of course, he won't say it means more than any other game, but it's a way bigger deal then he's letting on. A strong performance from the goalie will allow him to close the door on one of the few negative memories of his young career.

The second reason is that the Flyers are a very tight matchup for the Habs in that they're both contenders for the conference title. The Sabres are good, but they're not at the level of either of these two teams. And the Leafs, well, I don't think I need to explain that one.

A few things I'll be watching for tonight include:

How will Guillaume Latendresse respond to his strong night Saturday in Toronto. The Flyers defence is decimated, with the three of the six guys they expected to be in their top-six unavailable in Derian Hatcher, Randy Jones and Ryan Parent. Kimmo Timonen logged over 30 minutes in Philadelphia's first game. Will Latendresse be able to establish some net presence against the Flyers, especially considering the state o their defence? Another strong game from Gui could force Guy Carhbonneau's hand to keep his line intact with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay.

Will the power play combinations that were so successful in Toronto be maintained? Playing Sergei Kostitsyn on the point and allowing Tanguay to move to the wing was a winning combination against the Leafs, and it takes some of the pressure off the first unit guys to score. If this can be established as a second unit, the Habs power play will become much more potent and difficult to defend, because most team don't have two strong penalty killing units.

How will Robert Lang do in the faceoff circle? This has been one of the early-season disappointments after only two games, because Lang is winning only 42 per cent of his draws thus far. The fact Tomas Plekanec has won 64 per cent of his thud far kind of offsets that, but one of the roles Carbonneau envisioned for Lang was a go-to guy for important faceoffs. He'll need to show some improvement in that area tonight, though he'll be going up against some tough opposition in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

Can Ryan O'Byrne keep up his strong play? This is a major test for a guy like him because the Flyers group of forwards is the best combination of skill, speed and toughness in the league. Guys like Scott Hartnell, Carter, Richards and Mike Knuble will be pressuring him physically all night, and those were situations where O'Byrne had a tendency to panic with the puck last season. Thus far he's shown a huge improvement in the poise department, but how he responds tonight will go a long way toward determining how well O'Byrne will play this season.

Enjoy the game everyone, and check back here afterwards for post-game analysis.

Oh yeah, and Happy Thanksgiving!

No comments: