Habs set for 100th home opener

Tuesday, 14.10.2008 / 7:15 PM / News
The Canadian Press

MONTREAL (CP) - The celebration of the Montreal Canadiens' 100th season is about to begin, but there was little evidence of it at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.

Other than three injured skaters shooting on Concordia University goaltender Sheldon Baerg, none of the Montreal players that posted two wins and a shootout loss in their first three regular season road games was in sight.

Coach Guy Carbonneau elected to give himself and his team the day off, no doubt looking to shelter his club from the hype surrounding the Centennial and the giddy excitement of fans who feel they have a legitimate contender in Montreal for the first time in more than a decade.

The injured players - Georges Laraque, Christopher Higgins and Francis Bouillon - weren't on the road trip and aren't expected to play in the club's home opener Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins (7:30 p.m. ET), although all three could see action Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

All three are anxious to join the party, particularly Laraque, who signed with the Canadiens this summer but missed all of the pre-season with a groin injury.

"I have to be caught up in it because I was born here, my whole family's here and they've been talking about it all summer," said Laraque. "Even before I signed here they kept saying 'it's the perfect time to come to the Canadiens, you've got to come,' every single day.

"I watched the games with my cousins because the team was on the road and they're all wrapped up in it. The atmosphere is unbelievable. I haven't worn the jersey yet. That, more than anything, is what I'm most anxious about. As a kid born in Montreal to wear the Montreal jersey for the first time - I'm anxious to be out there."

Laraque and Bouillon, who had a foot injury, say they are ready to play, while Higgins says he has no pain after four days of skating with his groin injury. But none is likely to play until they've had a chance to practise with the team.

The home opener will see the unveiling of the Ring of Honor, a row of portraits of the 44 players and 10 builders the Canadiens have sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame since the club's founding in 1909. The ring is inside the rink at the top of the upper deck.

It is the first of an entire season of special events planned for the Centennial, which will include the All-Star Game in January, Patrick Roy's jersey retirement in November and several games in which players wear jerseys from the team's early days. A Canadiens one-dollar coin, a stamp and even a special edition of Monopoly will also come out this season.

"It's a huge celebration, not only for the organization, but for the city and the entire country," said Higgins, who grew up a Canadiens fan in Smithtown, N.Y. "You see the impact this organization has on the country with the logo being on coins and stamps.

"The organization transcends the game in this country. It's something special to see and I'm very grateful to be part of it."

Higgins was supposed to start the season on the second line with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, but watched as Guillaume Latendresse played well in his spot in the first three games.

When he returns, Higgins will likely move into that spot, with Latendresse taking over from grinder Tom Kostopoulos on a trio with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn, who leads the team with five points.

All three injured players were impressed with their teammates, who posted a shootout loss in Buffalo followed by a 6-1 win over Toronto and a 5-3 victory over Philadelphia. It was the fourth year in a row they have started with three road games and they have gained at least five of the six possible points each time.

"The team is awesome," said Bouillon. "We scored goals, the defense played well, the power-play did well, too. We played really good games and we have to build on that."

The Canadiens were a perfect 8-0 against Boston in the regular season in 2007-08, but needed seven games to edge them in a tough opening round of the playoffs.

Tanguay, Lang and Laraque were all acquired in the off-season as Montreal added depth to its top three lines and, in Laraque's case, some toughness.

He was missed in Philadelphia, where the Flyers came out hitting.

"It's frustrating when you watch it on TV and there's nothing you can do," said Laraque. "But the good thing about it is we'll have three other games against them and we'll see how it will be.

"Not just Boston or Philly, a lot of teams when they don't dress someone with physicality, stuff happens. I know that when I play, that's not going to happen."

The opener will mark the return to Montreal of winger Michael Ryder, who left as a free agent for Boston this summer.

The Bruins will be without forward Chuck Kobasew, who broke a foot in their season opener in Colorado. His place will likely be taken by Vladimir Sobotka, who was called up this week.