Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Game Day: CANUCKS @ Montreal

9 days after their last dance, the Canucks return the visit as they wrap up the Eastern swing with a visit to the Bell Center. The big question tonight isn't which Canucks team we will see, but which Canadiens team we will see. The Habs looked good on Saturday, especially Alex Kovalev, who had 3 points after taking a couple days off (read: sent away to get his head together) by GM Bob Gainey. In a season that was mean to glorify the achievements of the Habs, there seems to have been more distractions and embarrassments than anything else. The latest kerfuffle is the news reports linking the Kostitsyn brothers and Roman Hamrlik to a Montreal crime boss. Add in the team's recent slide (4 wins in their last 16) and the crumbling self-esteem of goalie Carey Price and you have a schizophrenic hockey club to battle with tonight. One thing that has helped the Habs is the addition of Mathieu Schneider, who solidifies the blueline and has definitely helped their struggling PP.

So it is a much different Habs squad the Canucks will face tonight. After Saturday's emotional (read: scripted by the writers of the WWE, on loan to Mr. Bettman) shootout win in Mats Sundin's return to Toronto, will the Canucks be able to stay motivated for the chance to go 4 for 4 on this road trip? It's easy to see why they couldn't. Emotional letdown, fatigue, even a slight sense of complacency (though with the exception of the Sharks and Red Wings, no one in the West should be complacent right now) could all be a factor. But when you look at the significance of the game to 2 of the Canucks, you also get the feeling this could be a very special night. Last time the Canucks rolled into Montreal, Roberto Luongo, still in his ER gown after taking a slap shot to the throat in practice the day before shutout the Habs in his hometown. Alex Burrows is also eager to wrap up this Eastern tour in front of family and friends with a big night.

Should the Canucks come out on top tonight, they have only the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning to deal with to wrap up the month of February, and the possibility of going 10-1-0 for the month, which goes a long way in erasing the memory of a truly horrific January.

One thing that has really made a difference with the Canucks lately is their play on the road. They are now 16-10-4 away from GM Place, and at 8-1-1 in their last 10 the hottest team in the NHL. The improved play of Kevin Bieksa, Willie Mitchell and Shane O'Brien has been a key in all this. Bieksa has turned heads of late with huge offensive production, and praise from the likes of Red Fisher and Don Cherry. Now if we can get Edler, Salo and Ohlund back to where they should be, this team looks to be in good shape down the stretch.

The trade deadline is looming, wnd while GM Mike Gillis has said the Canucks don't look to be buyers on deadline day, I wouldn't rule it out. We have cap space, and the addition of a top 6 forward, as well as a mobile defenceman would certainly enhance the Canucks chances of a long playoff run. There is still a tough March schedule and a few key games in April to go, but it looks like Alain Vigneault has righted the ship. The thing that encourages me is that this team still hasn't played their best game, IMO. I am thrilled to see them finding the way to win night after night, but Roberto Luongo has yet to come out and truly dominate a game. Perhaps tonight we will see that.

After many threats to do so, the podcasts will be returning soon, once I have dealt with a nasty chest infection that has me on the IR at work. In the meantime I will be updating things on the site (a few new Canucksblog links to come) like the standings...

The game goes @ 4:30 on Sportsnet tonight, and as always there is liveblogging on Canucks.com in the Fan Zone. I may even pop in if I can snag Laurie's laptop :)