Yesterday may have been St. Patrick's Day for most of the world. But not Quebec. No, that honor is reserved for tonight when the Canadiens' and Avs' very own St. Patrick returns to the Bell Centre for his first game since his jersey was retired.
The original St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Roman Britain, but was taken captive and shipped to Ireland as a slave at age 16. After converting to Christianity, he escaped and returned home, only to decide to come back to Ireland as a missionary a few years later. He died on March 17th, and a feast has been held in his honor since. He has numerous legends about him, including one that claims he banished all the snakes from Ireland.
Our very own St. Patrick has a legend of his own. He grew up a Nordiques fan, but was drafted by the rival Canadiens. As a 19-year-old, he played only one regular season game in the AHL but still won the starting job for the playoffs and took his team to a Calder Cup Championship that year. The next season, he did the same in Montreal, capturing his first Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe at the age of 20. In '93, a comment made by the Nordiques coach during the first round of the playoffs fired him up enough to steal the series and later the Cup. One thing is for sure: Patrick Roy - you won't like him when he's angry.
Then December 2, 1995 happened, and tensions with his coach resulted in a trade four days later to his recently relocated childhood team. Two more Cups followed, one his first year in Denver (where he banished all the rats from Florida, no less) and the next 5 seasons later. He retired in 2003 as the winningest goalie of all time. In retirement, he owned, managed, and coached the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, winning the Memorial Cup his during his first year behind the bench.
Now, he's back in Denver as our coach. We know part of his heart will always be back in his homeland of Quebec and with his original team, but just like the original St. Patrick, Roy chose to return to Colorado when he didn't have to. The down-and-out team of last year has seen a drastic reversal of fate under his guidance and is set to make the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. With his (mostly) calm demeanor, knowledge of the game, and partnership with his players, he's helped lead the team in their hunt for home-ice advantage in the most difficult division in hockey. Even with the incredible goaltending of Semyon Varlamov this year, it's hard to believe any of this would have been possible without Roy.
There's a reason they call him St. Patrick.
As it turns out, the Avs aren't the only team in search of home ice advantage. Les Habitants are tied with Tampa Bay at 81 points, but Tampa has a game in hand. A win tonight would allow them to leapfrog into the 2nd spot in the Atlantic and 3rd in the East. A win for the Avs would allow us to reach 95pts and remain in the 2nd spot in the Central and 4th in the West, but it could also open up some distance between the club and 3rd place Chicago.
Of the two, Colorado has scored significantly more goals this year with 209 instead of 174. The Avs +28 goal differential is 7th in the league, but the Habs' have only allowed 174 goals against this year, good for 9th. As usual, the Avs have stacked up well against the East this year with a 19-7-1 record. The Habs are hovering around .500 at 13-12-1 against the West.
The two clubs have met only once this year, on November 2nd (aka Adam Foote Night). Landeskog, MacKinnon, O'Reilly, and Parenteau scored in the 4-1 Avalanche win. Alex Tanguay was injured during the 2nd period, but Giguere and the team were still able to extend their season opening streak to 12-1.
The Avs at the moment are struggling a bit with injuries. Parenteau and Tanguay are out for at least the rest of the regular season, and Paul Stastny is questionable tonight with back spasms. O'Reilly left the ice last game, but will still be in the lineup tonight. That's good news for Avs fans since he has 14 pts in his last 10 games and leads the team in goals. His cohort, linemate, and occasional slapfight rival Matt Duchene leads the team in points and has 16 of them in his last 11 games. McGinn, Landeskog, and Mitchell are also producing, but MacKinnon is in a bit of a dry spell despite making things happen on the ice. He'd be one to watch for tonight.
The Avs are still the only team with five 20+ goal scorers on the roster. Injuries or not, they're a hard team to shut down.
Montreal's only significant injury is to Josh Gorges. He hurt his hand earlier this month. The Habs' leading scorer is defenseman PK Subban with 48 points. Max Pacioretty sits in 2nd in points and already has 30 goals. No one else on the team has more than 17G. Goalie Carey Price aggravated a lower-body injury during the Olympics and only returned on Saturday. He'll get the start tonight.
Overall, this should be a fun, fast paced game between two teams desperate for points and who like to move the puck. St. Patrick is sure to get a lot of face time on tonight's broadcast, but there's still a very important game to play as far as home-ice advantage goes.
One last interesting side note: JS Giguere, another Conn Smythe winning Quebecois goalie, has made some not so subtle hints that he is thinking of retiring and moving back to Montreal after this year. Given the Avs current 3 goalie system, it's possible that tonight will be his last NHL start.
Avalanche Lines (Updated):
Gabe Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon
J. S. Giguere
(I guessed these based on last game's shift chart. Accuracy is questionable.)
Thomas Vanek - David Desharnais - Max Pacioretty
PK Subban - Francis Bouillon
Alexei Emelin - Andrei Markov
Jarred Tinordi - Mike Weaver
5:30 PM MT (7:30 ET). Broadcast on Altitude and RDS.