Just when you thought you were facing the Dogs of War last week, along comes another tough November week! Montreal has some serious adversaries to face this week, and once again, I can't be too positive of the outcome. Mind you, the team showed enough spirit last week to bring out the positivity in even the most pessimistic fans.
But there are certainly some serious issues that the Habs are facing as they start the week off tonight at home against their nemesis - the Philadelphia Flyers. Last week at this time, Jacques Martin had shuffled his defensive unit, and looked to solve the struggling power play. And just as all seemed to be turning around, Andrei Markov's heroic return was quashed by what looks to be another significant injury.
While there has been tremendous speculation as to what the results of Markov's knee-on-knee collision with Eric Staal will be, there is still no conclusive information available at this time. What we do know is this - the defense will be paired differently this week in his absence.
Montreal will have the luxury of spending the next week on home ice, and the toughest test of the week is tonight. The Flyers come back to the Bell Center for the first time since upsetting the Habs in the Eastern Conference Final last May, and without doubt, the Habs will be looking for retribution. But the squad in orange tonight are not exactly the same team that Montreal faced last, with key injuries keeping Danny Carcillo, Ian Laperriere, and Michael Leighton out of the line-up. But Captain Mike Richards has anchored a team full of talent to 9 victories in their last 10 games. And the familliar faces of Giroux, Carter, and Briere have amassed 49 points since the puck dropped this season. Add that onto the overall size of the Flyers, and once again we will see if the speed of the Canadiens can compete for a full 60 minutes.
Thursday brings the Nashville Predators to Montreal, and the return of former Habs - Francis Bouillon, and Sergei Kostitsyn. For a team that's sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, and having scored only 38 goals on the season, it needs to be noted that the Preds are a solid 2-1-2 in their last 5 against the Canadiens. Pekka Rinne will most likely get the nod to start between the pipes, and he's sporting a highly respectable 2.85 GAA and .910 SV%. Numbers that aren't the most promising for a Montreal offense that is just beginning to get on it's feet. Most of all, there will be great hope that the return of SK74 doesn't come back to poison the decent start of his brother, as it seemed to do when they both skated in Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.
Saturday night caps off the home stand with the age old rivalry of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto, who got off to a superbly promising start (5-0), have tanked as of late, losing their last eight straight. They continue to struggle offensively, and a red hot Carey Price is not likely to help them in their quest to break out. But depite some decent offense from Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel (with 7 and 8 goals apiece), it's apparent that the Leafs franchise is suffering from the loss of Captain Dion Phaneuf. Having said all of that, the Leafs continue to be a team that plays well against Montreal; and if ever there was a team that the Leafs would love to break out of their slump against - it's Les Canadiens.
Not the toughest week of the year. But one that screams out a warning against the ever present complacency that always seems to be on the tongue of those fans who follow the Habs like a religion. But for 63,819 fanatics, it should be an entertaining and relatively succesful week, before heading out of town to face the Broad Street Bullies on their own turf.
There's nothing quite like the echoing chant of the Ole's as they drift upwards to the rafters of the Bell Center. Here's hoping for plenty throughout the course of this homestand.