Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Providence vs. Hamilton: Stuff To Look Out For

It's a battle of the M.A.S.H. units tonight in Boston. The NHL's most active rivalry will be missing, oh, a few names you may recognize.

Injury rundown
Boston: Phil Kessel will be out for about a month with mono. Patrice Bergeron is skating but has no timetable for return. Marco Sturm is done for at least the regular season with knee surgery. Milan Lucic has simply been AWOL for the past several games (hopefully he didn't share a water bottle with Kessel). Andrew Ference is getting closer to returning from his broken leg. Manny Fernandez is out tonight with an unspecified injury, but expected to return soon. Shane Hnidy took a puck in the face but is expected to play with a visor.

Montreal: Carey Price will sit with a "lower body injury" (aka groin pull). Saku Koivu is close to returning from a foot injury, but won't play tonight. Alex Tanguay could miss up to 6 weeks with a bum shoulder. Christopher Higgins also has an injured shoulder, but won't come back until after the All-Star break. Mathieu Dandenault is out indefinitely with a broken arm. Georges Laraque is still out with a groin injury.

Montreal's been dealing with their injury issues for a bit longer than Boston, so their callups have had a bit more time to gel with the rest of the team. Prospects like Kyle Chipchura and Matt D'Agostini have become quasi-regular players for the Habs, while Max Pacioretti and Yannick Weber are still finding their place on the roster (Pacioretti has been skating on the top line).

Meanwhile the Bruins have been racking up frequent-flier miles this week, sending Matt Lashoff back to Providence and recalling Martin St. Pierre, Byron Bitz, Martins Karsums, and Kevin Regan. Goalie phenom Tuukka Rask was recalled for one game and sent back down in order to get playing time instead of riding the pine.

Got all that?

Lines? We don't need no stinkin' lines: To say the least, it's going to be a hectic night for Claude Julien as he has to completely reassemble his lineup and try to manage line changes on home ice. It's a fool's errand to try and predict what he'll do, but here's a shot in the dark at what the B's lines might look like:

Axelsson-Yelle-St. Pierre

Yikes. This is starting to feel a lot like last season. But then again, if it weren't for last season's injury issues we wouldn't have discovered guys like David Krejci and Looch. Que sera sera.

Wait, some players will actually be available?: Among those actually able to dress for the game, expect the Bruins to lean most heavily on Marc Savard, Krejci and Zdeno Chara for production. One of the advantages to having good centers is that they can make nearly any linemate into an offensive contributor. Look for Kobasew and Karsums to charge the net hard and take advantage of Savard's playmaking wizardry, and Krejci's #1A line to get some extra ice time to continue their torrid streak.

As for Chara, the Bruins simply need him to be a threat from the blue line. With reduced skill in the forward ranks, Chara's slapshot can give his teammates a little extra breathing room and ideally set up some rebound opportunities. Whether or not he tallies on the scoresheet, Chara needs to have an active game.

Goalie matchup: Looks like it'll be Tim Thomas vs. Jaroslav Halak. Goalies can be the difference in a close game, etc.

The big picture: Winning a rivalry game is great, but there's more at stake in this game. The Bruins and Habs are two of the hottest teams in the league, and separated by 10 points for the division title. It's a safe bet the Bruins are going to come back down to earth soon, so a 6-game lead would be a very reassuring cushion against the Habs' winning ways. If Montreal takes this game, the pressure on Boston will ramp up significantly. Also, the hot Capitals (who lost to the Habs the other day) are still pushing to catch up to the #1 seed. The winner of this game gets a lot of marbles.

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the Rocket said...

With all the injuries that you mention there were some new faces making an impact for the Bruins. Can you tell me a little more about this Chris Lee fellow? I think that he really made the difference for the Bruins tonight!



Tom said...

Chris Lee.. Chris Lee... not ringing a bell.

Wait, was he one of the guys who killed the Habs' final four power plays in a row?

the Rocket said...

If you don't know the name, then you will come to know him, I'm sure.

For an important game between two of the NHL's best teams, it is irresponsible that the league sent one of its worst officials.

Tom said...

Are you seriously saying that a 3-minute power play in the second period of a game in which each team recieved in equal number of PP chances made this game unwinnable for the Habs?

Spare me. Montreal came in with a poor gameplan, taking a ton of low-quality shots from outside the circles, and got gradually less effective as the game wore on. If the Habs had been the better team they would have won, considering it was a 1-goal game with two minutes to play.

the Rocket said...

Perhaps you missed the first period Tom.

The Bastahd said...

"Perhaps you missed the first period Tom."

Montreal's first period: 17 shots on net.

Quality scoring chances 4, maybe 5? Most of those shots were from bad angles or unscreened deep shots. I was at the game and was hardly concerned about the majority of their first period shots cause any college-level goalie could have stopped 14 of those 17.

Tom said...

That's pretty much word-for-word what I was going to say. We have been winning games all season by letting teams barrage Thomas and Fernandez with unscreened, stationary shots from outside the slot. The Wings fell for the same trap -- more shots doesn't always mean more goals.