So. It's been a while since these two teams met. Since then, Boston has gone on an impressive tear to become the best team in the Eastern Conference. With only ONE LOSS in the entire month of December, the Bruins seem unstoppable. Considering that the Bruins embarrassed the Habs the last time they played, Montreal fans should be worried.
Montreal finds itself comfortably in playoff position, with a better record now than at this same time last year. The Habs have won four straight, despite injuries to Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins, and Carey Price. Georges Laraque, while not essential, could benefit Montreal in a phyisical game against Boston.
Speaking of which, Milan Lucic has been day-to-day, but the smart money is on him playing tomorrow. It will be interesting to see him renew hostilities with Mike Komisarek, especially now that he does not have to worry about ducking Laraque. Another key player for Boston will be Michael Ryder, who has once again flourished under his old coach Claude Julien. (All evidence for Ryder's slump last year seems to point to Guy Carbonneau's shortcomings as a coach.) David Krejci rounds out the list of key Boston players.
On the other side, Montreal's Alex Kovalev has started to heat up, along with the Habs' power play. Actually, the entire Montreal power play is the key "player" to watch tomorrow, as it has been getting better, and could make the difference. Komisarek has returned after injuring his shoulder in an ill-advised fight with Lucic, and there is obviously no love lost between the two. Boston has Lucic; watch for Maxim Lapierre to be on the ice antagonizing the Bruins' top players. He is centering a very hot third line at the moment, and Carbonneau will probably use him against Boston's best.
Now for a bit of editorializing/baiting/discussion:
What is the cause of the Bruins' success?
Marc Savard's continued growth is certainly one reason, along with the acquisition of Michael Ryder and the chemistry he has forged with David Krejci. Phil Kessel continues to grow into his role, and Lucic has brought excitement back for the fans.
A puzzling aspect is Boston's defense, which has remained largely the same since last year. Zdeno Chara is still woefully incompetent with the puck in his own end, and Andrew Ference, Shane Hnidy, Matt Hunwick, Matt Lashoff, Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman, and Aaron Ward round out what would otherwise be a group of very average defensemen.
Another puzzling part of the picture is Boston's goaltending. Tim Thomas has a 2.08 GAA and .933 save percentage, which defy explanation. Thomas (and most Boston fans would agree) has atrocious positioning and lacks basic fundamentals. Yet, Like Dominic Hasek, he makes the save, no matter how ugly. Alternately, Manny Fernandez has almost identical numbers. His success has come as a surprise to many, as he had previously spent his time in Boston watching from the press box with one injury or another. Both goalies are 34 years old, which would suggest that their best years are behind them.
I haven't watched any Boston games since the last debacle against Montreal (one can only take so much of Jack Edwards), so I am eager to see what makes this team tick.
All I can say is, I am grateful that I left the Boston area prior to this sudden explosion of success from the Bruins. The real question now is, how long will it last? Boston does have Tukka Rask waiting in the wings, and he should be ready by the time Thomas and Fernandez (inevitably) falter. Boston's forwards are good, and will probably get even better, but the defensemen leave me scratching my head, trying to figure out how they have been succesful.