Hockey

Canadiens open home slate against Bruins

The Montreal Canadiens take to the ice for their home opener on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, kicking off a centennial year of celebrations that they hope will culminate with a very large party in June.

The Montreal Canadiens take to the ice for their home opener on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, kicking off a centennial year of celebrations that they hope will culminate with a very large party in June.

Through three games, the Canadiens have done little to belie the notion that they're serious Eastern Conference championship contenders.

Montreal (2-0-1) ran into a hot goalie on opening night, settling for a point in Buffalo, but poured in 11 goals for big wins in Toronto and Philadelphia.

The Canadiens appear to have three lines capable of scoring on a regular basis. Sergei Kostitsyn leads with two goals and three assists, while captain Saku Koivu and defenceman Andrei Markov each have four assists.

The veteran forward additions are finding their way about as well as could be expected. Robert Lang has scored twice in three games, with Alex Tanguay enjoying a four-point game against Toronto.

There's still room for improvement, too. The Canadiens went 0-for-4 on the power play against the Flyers, while Tomas Plekanec has just one assist and five shots on net in three games.

Coach Guy Carbonneau said early Wednesday that big Georges Laraque will play his first regular season game in a Montreal uniform.

"He skated the last four days with no pain," said Carbonneau. "I told him when I first talked to him that I don't want him to sit on the bench and then go out and fight, we want him to play hockey."

It is expected Steve Begin will be the odd man out. Chris Higgins (groin) and Francis Bouillon (foot) are not expected to debut..

The home opener will see the unveiling of the Ring of Honour at Bell Centre, 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 five consecutive home games for Montreal, which next plays Saturday against Phoenix.

Bell Centre was not a place for celebration for the visitors last season.

Montreal won all eight regular season games against Boston in 2007-08. The Bruins then appeared to be meekly bowing out to the Canadiens in the playoffs before rallying to take the series to seven games. Still, they won just one of the four playoff games contested in Montreal.

Michael Ryder plays his first regular season game in Montreal as a member of the opposition. Ryder's production dropped off toward the end of his four seasons with the Canadiens, and he signed as a free agent with Boston in the summer.

The Bonavista, Nfld., native did his best Cam Neely impersonation in his Bruins debut last week, firing the puck in the blink of an eye for a goal against Colorado. He added two assists in the team's loss to Minnesota.

He's intent on doing well against his old club.

"It’ll be good to beat them, to be sure, but I’ve kind of turned the page and it’s over with now," Ryder told the Boston Herald. "It’s part of the game, I guess, and I’m here now. I just want to be sure I help this team win."

Patrice Bergeron will suit up for his first meaningful game in Montreal in about a year, the result of suffering a concussion from an illegal check in a game against Philadelphia on Oct. 27, 2007. The Ancienne-Lorette, Que., native hasn't absorbed any huge hits yet, but also hasn't shown any tentativeness, drawing three assists in two games.

Boston has split its first two games, which highlighted why defensive zone coverage on goaltending may be an issue.

Tim Thomas made 35 saves against Colorado, many brilliant, but the scrappy netminder also coughed up plenty of big rebounds. Manny Fernandez, trying to come back after knee injuries, struggled in the loss to Minnesota.

The Bruins weren't very good on the penalty kill last season and didn't show much progress in the two games thus far. Boston has allowed three power-play goals in eight attempts, with another goal coming just after a penalty expired.

Boston called up defenceman Matt Hunwick from the minors to fill the spot left vacant by trading Andrew Alberts to Philadelphia on Monday. The Bruins also summoned forward Vladimir Sobotka, who scored two goals against the Canadiens in the April playoffs.

With files from the Canadian Press