Game Day: Canadiens and Flyers Renew Rivalry in Montreal

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent INovember 16, 2010

MONTREAL, QC - MAY 20:  A fan of the Montreal Canadiens holds up a towel reading 'Go Habs Go!' during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre on May 20, 2010 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

All of the talk surrounding the Montreal Canadiens the last few days has focused on the potentially long-term loss of star defenseman Andrei Markov to injury.

There is currently no official word on the status of Markov after he collided with Carolina's Eric Staal on Saturday night and went down in a heap. That doesn't stop people from talking however, as rumours have been swirling of an absence of anywhere from three weeks to one year.

The Team 1990's Tony Marinaro even announced that he has learned that Markov has a torn ACL and will be out of action for three months. This comes despite the fact that many close to the situation are saying that no official word will come out until the swelling has gone down in his knee and they can do the proper tests.

Personally, when I saw the way Markov went down, my feeling was that the Habs had lost him for the season. While that may still come to pass, what is as important as the actually severity of his injury is the manner in which his teammates respond to the loss on the ice.

Tonight, at the Bell Centre, the Markov-less Habs get their first chance to show what they can do against one of the best teams in the league.

The Flyers, who have been perennial thorns in the Habs' sides, are absolutely rolling with a 12-4-2 record in 18 games, for 26 points and second place overall in the league. The Flyers are currently on a three-game winning streak.

The Habs too have been playing well, and boast an 11-5-1 record for 23 points in the standings and are on a three-game winning streak of their own.

Last week's games against the Canucks and Bruins were considered by most to be the first "real" tests for the Habs this season. The Flyers represent another, even bigger test for the Canadiens on several levels, none being more pertinent than the fact that this will be the first truly bruising team they have played.

While the Habs have a ton of speed and skill they tended to wither a little last season against the more physical teams in the league, and Philly is certainly at the top of that list.

Add to the mix the third round playoff loss to the Flyers this past off-season, and the fact that the Habs just lost their best defenseman, and you have the makings of a highly anticipated matchup.

The Canadiens cannot afford to sit back on their heels and must use their speed to get behind the Flyers defense and try to cause them to take penalties. While the Flyers' defensemen are talented, they are not the most mobile bunch in the league and the Habs need to keep them backing up in order to have success tonight.

If the Habs sit back and let the Flyers come at them, I fear that their gritty cycle and physicality will become that much more of a factor in the game.

Watch for the Flyers to target the Canadiens' defenseman for physical punishment tonight, starting with P.K. Subban.  Subban, who as my colleague Eric Engels pointed out, was not ready be the No.1 defenseman 16 games, is now able to handle that responsibility.  It is amazing how quickly he has adapted to the speed and skill level of the NHL and he looks more and more like a veteran every game.

Tonight, Subban will have to keep his head up as the likes of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards will be in his face every time he touches the puck.

The real question mark for me will be to see how many minutes Jacques Martin chooses to give Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek. You'll remember how they didn't look very good playing over 20 minutes per game at the beginning of the season, while Markov was out.

With Alexandre Picard rejoining the lineup, you'd have to hope that Martin gives the extra minutes to Subban, Josh Gorges, and maybe even Picard, before looking to the old Czech duo.

Finally, I'll be watching Carey Price, who surely remembers getting roasted by the Flyers in the playoffs a few seasons ago, to see how he responds. Playing the best hockey of his career right now, Price looks ready for the challenge. That's a good thing too, because his counterpart tonight, Sergei Bobrovsky, is also playing out of his mind, so this one could come down to which team can disrupt the goaltender the most.

Look for lots of crease crashing by Philly and one heck of an entertaining spectacle.

The puck drops around 7:08 pm.

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