Only 24 short hours after handing the Ottawa Senators their sixth straight home loss in a 7-1 drubbing in Kanata, the Montreal Canadiens are back home tonight to take on the Anaheim Ducks.
This will be a game between two teams that have a lot of similarities.
They boast similar records in the standings—Montreal is 27-17-4 with 58 points in sixth overall in the East and Anaheim is 26-20-4 with 56 points in sixth overall in the West—have each had their ups and downs this season and are both trying to solidify their playoff spots.
In the net, no goalie in the league has played more games than either Carey Price or Jonas Hiller, with 44 and 43 respectively. These two netminders are also one and two for most wins among NHL starter with Price having 24 to Hiller's 23. As such, this should be one heck of a goaltending battle between two teams who lean heavily on their netminders.
Up front, the Canadiens have a bevy of players with points in recent games but no one is hotter than Tomas Plekanec, who has six points in his last six games. Rookie sensation, P.K. Subban is not too far behind with five points in his last five.
For the Ducks, it is Lubomir Vishnovsky who is bringing the heat with 10 points in his last seven games while Jonas Hiller, 8-4-0 in his last 12 starts, has a.940 save percentage in his last 13 starts.
In the special teams department, the Ducks are operating at a scintillating 23 percent efficiency on the power play, third overall in the league to the Habs' 11th ranked PP (19.3 percent). For the penalty kill, the numbers are reversed with the Habs' second ranked PK running at a 85.9 percent clip while the Ducks are floundering in 15th overall with a 82.4 percent efficiency.
Needless to say, special teams and goaltender are the keys to tonight's match.
The last and most poignant similarity that these two teams have is the presence of a player named Saku Koivu. Well, the Canadiens don't have Koivu on their team anymore but he will be making his return to the Bell Centre tonight in a Ducks uniform.
Koivu, who played 13 season with the Montreal Canadiens, nine as captain of the team, will be making an emotional return to Montreal for the first time since being let go as a free agent two summers ago.
While Koivu left Montreal with a whimper, he will be returning with a bang as 21, 273 fans eagerly wait their former captain. If you don't know or haven't heard, Koivu had a tumultuous career in Montreal, marred by injury, illness and language controversy.
The Montreal Canadiens team slogan, a passage from In Flanders Fields, is "...to you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high."
Saku Koivu is the player who carried the torch through the dark years of the late nineties and early 2000's, when the team was being mismanaged and run into the ground. A warrior on the ice, Koivu's accomplishments perhaps pale in comparison to the charity and community work that he did outside of the rink, like setting up a charity that raised over $8 million to buy a PET scan machine for the Montreal General Hospital.
That being said, Koivu was the captain of a generation of fans who scarcely remember any Stanley Cups being won in Montreal and he is loved, to this day, because of it.
So, with fans organizing a Facebook group to vote Koivu as the first star of tonight's game, the Montreal Canadiens organization is planning a pregame montage to honour Koivu's years with the organization.
Koivu is, was and always will be, the epitome of class, as evidenced by his press conference in Montreal yesterday afternoon. And while I truly believe that at some point the Canadiens will bring Koivu back into the fold of the organization, perhaps as an ambassador, tonight the fans get to once again show the man who beat cancer how much he still means to this city.
For the Canadiens' players who have become part of this organization since Koivu's departure, they are about to witness the definition of adulation when Koivu steps on the ice tonight. They will truly see how much love the Habs' faithful can have for one person and, if that doesn't motivate them to be even better, I don't know what will.
The Team 990's Matthew Ross, who also does some work for Bodog.com sent me the following interesting betting odds for tonight's game:
Will Saku Koivu (ANA) score a goal?
Yes +325 (or 13/4)
No -450 (or 2/9)
Will Saku Koivu (ANA) record a point?
Yes +140 (or 7/5)
No -170 (or 10/17)
Will Saku Koivu (ANA) be the first star of the Game?
Yes -150 (or 2/3)
No +110 (or 11/10)
So from looking at those numbers, it seems that the odds are on for Koivu to be named first star of the game but to be shut off of the score sheet.
Whatever the odds are for tonight, I have one more stat and that is the chance of tonight being an incredible emotional evening: 100 percent.
Here are a few clips, audio files and videos to get you primed for what is sure to be another incredibly poignant night in Montreal Canadiens history.
Full audio of Saku Koivu's press conference—Jan. 21, 2011
Video excerpt of Saku Koivu's press conference—Jan. 21, 2011
And, for a small glimpse of what we might see tonight, here is video of Saku Koivu's returns from cancer:
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