Saturday, November 5, 2011

Canadiens visit MSG tonight

Whenever the Canadiens come to town, they usually bring their overwhelming support with them, invading our building. As the other two Rangers' rivals know all too well, it's become a Montreal tradition for fans who probably can't get to see their beloved team at Bell Centre, to travel on buses and cheer on their heroes.

Hockey is religion north of the border. So, it comes as little surprise that so many fans follow their club around. You can pretty much say that for any of the seven Canadian teams that now includes the Winnipeg Jets again. I can reflect on meeting people from Alberta who flew cross continent to support the Flames and Oilers. It's what makes these games so special. Meeting fans who go the distance to borrow a phrase from Field Of Dreams, is what's so compelling. The atmosphere is great and I'm very excited to be seeing my first game at the World's Most Renovated Arena.

It's unlike when the Rangers play the Islanders, Devils or Flyers. There's not as much hatred unless you're an older Blueshirt fan like our Dad, who can't stand the Canadiens. This probably dates back to the 1970's when the Habs were one of our adversaries who prevented some real good Ranger teams from sniffing Lord Stanley ('79). That and a guy named Bobby Orr in Beantown. In '86, it was rookie Patrick Roy upending our team again after a nice run to the Wales Conference Finals, going on to win it all over Calgary. Combine with this that Les Habitants outnumber us by 20 in Cups (24-4) with their last preempting the most recent moment which inspired a, "Now I Can Die In Peace" sign that now seems like a cold death eons ago.

To be perfectly honest, the last time either team was relevant was when I was a teenager in high school. Sure. Our '97 club led by The Great One and The Messiah, Leetch, Richy and Gravy made a surprising run to the Conference Finals before the Legion Of Doom ousted us in five. That's the last time the Blueshirts were in the Final Four. And yes, the Canadiens had their own similar moment upsetting the Caps and Pens before losing to the miracle Flyers, who fell to the Blackhawks two seasons ago. Those have been rare exceptions.

Both Original Sixes have competitive rosters who are eerily similar relying on star goalies. For us, it's Henrik Lundqvist while for them, Carey Price is the man, making fans forget Jaroslav Halak, who has fallen apart in St. Louis. More on that another time. Remarkably, you can make a case that our team boasts more talent with resurgent Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards leading the charge. The Habs are gritty and must outwork opponents. They do have the annoying P.K. Subban, who's off to a poor start. Mike Cammalleri is healthy again and the most skilled offensive player who can finish and create. Scott Gomez is hurt. Why did Bob Gainey do that trade again? The Rangers are laughing all the way to the bank with Ryan McDonagh looking like our most versatile blueliner- really benefiting from Marc Staal being out.

After a dreadful start, the Habs enter red hot having reeled off four straight since unceremoniously dismissing former assistant Perry Pearn. I was no fan of him here but the way that was handled, was a disgrace. Odd how using an assistant has woken up Montreal with Erik Cole reviving and Max Pacioretty displaying a lot of toughness. One look at their IR and it's no wonder they must squeeze every ounce of energy required to win. Why they re-signed Andre Markov remains a mystery? He's morphed into Vlad Malakhov. Unable to stay healthy.

I don't want to see Mr. Hacks, Brian Gionta scoring on one of those redirections. Nor do I want to see him or any other Hab chopping away at Lundqvist after the whistle. The Rangers must stay away from turning the puck over. Montreal's transition game is quick, turning D into offense. Tomas Plekanec is their best overall player. Always dangerous shorthanded and sound defensively. He doesn't get enough credit for how good he is. Midget David Desharnais is someone to watch. Andre Kostitsyn has been putting the puck in lately. The Habs are not a pretty team but one who is a reflection of their coach Jacques Martin.

Kinda reminds me of us. When will Tort reunite the Draft Line? Especially if D-Step is centering Gaborik and Fedotenko. Right now, he'll stick with Richy between Cally and Dubi, who have been reinvigorated. Though the longer Dubi goes without a goal, the more you pull your hair out. If only he had Stepan's IQ. Sean Avery should see the ice tonight for the first time after the coach basically threw him under the bus. Look for him with Boyle and Prust, which could benefit each. The fourth line might be better if Christy continues to show up and Arty makes the most of his shifts. He really is in the doghouse and must turn it around. This is a guy capable of 20+ goals and 50 points. I'd hate to see him sacrificed and find it elsewhere. He could be on the block.

At the moment, Mats Zuccarello has not been recalled. Andre Deveaux has been a pleasant surprise. When does Anton Stralman arrive and what does that mean for Jeff Woywitka? At the very least, we should be entertained with King Henrik and Price likely to duel while also finding plenty to banter about with the opposing fans.

Fasten your seatbelts.

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