It’s a big night in downtown Montreal. After a summer filled with changes and speculation, a few new Habs will finally be making their debuts for the bleu-blanc-rouge. It may only be a preseason match-up, but when the puck finally drops against the Panthers, it’s sure to be an emotional affair.
That emotion is sure to be running deepest for the team’s new head coach in particular. Thursday’s game won’t merely be Jacques Martin’s first day behind the Habs’ bench; when the puck drops to launch the preseason, the former Panthers’ GM will also be facing off against his old team for the first time since coming to Montreal this June.
The Canadiens will look to one-up their impressive dossier from 2008-09. After posting a 6-3-0 record in nine tune-up games last year, the Habs have just seven games to prepare for the Oct. 1 launch of the 2009-10 season.
Also counting down the minutes to game-time, a few other new Montrealers will be taking their first strides on Bell Centre ice against the Panthers on Thursday. With the wait finally over, summertime acquisitions Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek will all be pulling on their new Canadiens jerseys for the first time.
Despite the overhaul that occurred in the Canadiens’ dressing room this summer, last year’s top preseason performers remain on the Habs roster. While not in the lineup tonight against the Panthers, Tomas Plekanec did pile up seven points last September. After amassing eight points in exhibition games in his own right, Andrei Kostitsyn will be in uniform as he takes his first test-drive alongside new linemates Gomez and Cammalleri. Another strong performer in warm-up games a year ago was Andrei Markov who chipped in with five points. The two-time All-Star will be back at it tonight as he pairs up with free-agent pickup Jaroslav Spacek on the Montreal blue line.
The Panthers already boast a pair preseason tilts under their flea collars, having downed the Senators 3-1 in a game played in Halifax on Tuesday, before edging those same Sens 2-1 last night in Ottawa.
With the Habs scheduled to play two less preseason games than last year, young guns hoping to impress will have to come flying out of the gate. Their first chance comes tonight at the Bell Centre.