The NHL's 2013 season is finally beginning after the stupidest lockout on record with the Toronto Maple Leafs making the trip to face the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Friend of the Blog Jonas Siegel has the lineups with one surprise:
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Mike Brown - Jay McClement - Colton Orr/David Steckel
Dion Phaneuf - Mike Kostka
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
That's right, Ben Scrivens will be starting in net tonight. This fits with Randy Carlyle's statement that they were going with the best players. As I noted yesterday, the Leafs had a good number of players that were active during the lockout but only one goalie. The Habs had fewer players active and maybe that's an advantage for the Leafs. The defence pairings look like Carlyle is going for balance although I anticipate that Gunnarsson-Komisarek is going to be PK1 and will be tried out first as a shutdown pairing. I know, we'll see.
A quick note, the puck will drop tonight at 7:21pm because Montreal loves their pre-game ceremonies but when it's the only thing they do well anymore can you really blame them? Anyway, to set the stage, here is the opposing preview and a few questions and answers with Andrew "Hammy" Berkshire who is the tireless manager of Habs Eyes On The Prize:
1. How's the defence shape up without PK Subban?
Not that good to be honest. Last year the team was good under Jacques Martin when healthy mostly because P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges were incredible together, but the team really suffered with the lack of a second pairing. The hope for this year was that Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin could be that second pairing, but we just don't know what Andrei Markov we're getting. Now that pairing is being asked to be the first pair, with Gorges sliding down to play with Tomas Kaberle, who is apparently in much better shape, but likely still not a top 4 defender anymore. It's possible that it could work for a couple games, but unless Markov is as good as he was in 2009, which is unlikely, I can't see that defense holding up against good offensive teams. Guys like Eller and Plekanec will be asked to do some yeoman's work until Subban signs, I believe.
2. What are the biggest changes wrought by the new coach?
The change from Cunneyworth should be fairly dramatic. Therrien hasn't shown a great ability to have a positive possession system, but one thing he can do well is identify where a player is best suited to play. He recognized that Jordan Staal was a tough minutes ace at just 18, and his player usage in Pittsburgh was very logical. We're hoping that this leads to a heavily sheltered season for David Desharnais to produce a scenario where he can produce like last year. We're not holding out much hope that Therrien is going to produce an amazing possession club, especially without Subban, but in a shortened season coming out of the lockout, maybe the old 2000's strategy of Habs success relying on special teams and goaltending can get us somewhere. Other than that, most of what Therrien has said are a bunch of buzzwords. "We'll be strong on the forecheck", "We'll be tough to play against", meh.
3. How much did you miss hockey? and yes, hockey, because the NHL is fucking hockey. In every sense of that sentence.
Can this even be put into words? No longer having to brainstorm for hours a day to figure out bullshit articles to write while looking back in time, and no more looking at a screen saying AHL Live has crashed. No more speculating about who's going to be on the team or whether Gomez is going to be bought out, it's done and now it's on! It's Habs vs Leafs soon and nothing else matters in the whole damn world.