Tonight, Eagles fans receive a rare treat as one of the teams from the West Division, the Gatineau Olympiques, comes to C200 for its yearly visit.
RECORDS AND STANDINGS
The Eagles enter this game with a record of 18-11-1 for 37 points, which has them in third place in the eight-team East Division, two points back of the second-place Moncton Wildcats (who play at Halifax tonight) and seven back of the division-leading Lewiston MAINEiacs (who are idle). Nipping on the heels of the Screaming Eagles are the Bathurst Titan, who are just two points behind with a game in hand. The Titan play host to the PEI Rocket tonight. Cape Breton sits tied for fourth overall (coincidentally enough, tied with the Gatineau Olympiques) in the 18-team QMJHL. They're coming into this game having won their last game, 7-3 over the Halifax Mooseheads, but having lost the three games prior to that one. It's therefore important that a good effort is put forth tonight so that the team can really distance themselves from their recent three-game skid. Tonight's game is the third of a six-game home stand, on which the team currently sports a 1-1 record. The Eagles are 11-3 in total on home ice so far this season.
The Gatineau Olympiques have a very good team year in and year out and are always very well-coached and extremely difficult to play against. They enter tonight's game with a record of 17-8-1-2, good for 37 points and as stated before, a tie with the Eagles for fourth overall in the QMJHL. They sit in second place in the 10-team West division, behind only the Val d'or Foreurs.
RUNDOWN OF GATINEAU OLYMPIQUES
Gatineau is led by one of the best forward lines in the league, featuring former PEI Rocket Viatcheslav "Slava" Trukhno at left wing, Howie Center native Brett Morrison at center, and Philadelphia Flyers 1st round pick Claude Giroux at right wing. Giroux is third in league scoring with 57 points in 28 games and has been one of the league's best all-around players all season; a real "new NHL" style of player. Trukhno is one of the league's flashier offensive talents, sits seventh in league scoring with 52 points in 25 games, and his 38 assists are second-best in the league. Local boy Morrison has 41 points in 26 games, good for a tie for 16th in league scoring, and he has the league's best faceoff win % at 64.5%. As said, this trio is truly one of the league's best, and the Eagles' checking line and PK will have to zero in on this line tonight.
Les Olympiques also have quality second and third lines made up of guys like captain Keven Petit, JP Chabot, Matthew Pistilli, Michael Stinziani, and crasher and banger Darryl Smith.
Their defence is a bit young and unproven but it's been doing the job for the most part so far. Their D corps is led by 20-year-old Martin Frechette, who is tied for second in the league (with Screaming Eagle JC Sawyer) in points among defencemen with 33 in 28 games. They've also recently received a defensive boost with the return to the lineup of defensive defenceman Jonathan Carrier. Another source of offense from the blueline is Maxime Mallette, but he did not play in the Piques' last game so he may be injured and unavailable for tonight. Another solid D for Gatineau is former first round Q draft pick Brad Tesink.
In goal, Gatineau possesses a decent, but not great, overager in Olivier Laliberte. Whether or not he'll backstop them all season or they'll go after someone a little more proven for their playoff run remains to be seen. While he's not a superstar though, the southpaw Laliberte is solid and reliable, and can give the opposition fits on any given night. In fact, in an interview about two years ago, he was actually Sidney Crosby's answer to the question "Which QMJHL goalie do you find the hardest to score on?" He's not a big star, but he's competent, and often plays well enough to win. He'll most likely get the start tonight, as Gatineau has been playing "musical backup goalies" all season, with none of them really sticking around.
FROM THE EAGLES' POINT OF VIEW
Cape Breton dropped their only other meeting with the Gatineau Olympiques this season by a score of 6-4 at the Robert Guertin Arena in Hull, PQ back on September 22. They led this game 3-2 after two periods but a third period collapse sealed their fate for that night. Over the past few seasons, the Eagles have had a lot of trouble matching up against the Olympiques. The last five regular season matchups between the two teams have all been Gatineau wins, and the Piques also defeated the Screaming Eagles 4-1 in games in a 2005 first round playoff series. Add it all up and the Screaming Eagles have lost nine of their last ten games against this perennially successful hockey club. Gatineau's knack for finding a way to win was no more apparent than their last visit to C200 back in January of last season, when they erased a 3-0 deficit after two periods to beat the Eagles 5-4 in a shootout. Cape Breton will surely need one of their better efforts of the season to beat this very tough team tonight.
Probable Eagle line combinations heading into tonight's game:
Dean Ouellet-Cam Fergus-Paul McIlveen
Chris Culligan-James Sheppard-Scott Brannon
Brendon MacDonald-JC Gauthier-Brad Gallant
The fourth line could be any mix of Francois Gauthier, Alex Quesnel, Mickey MacDonald, and Stephen Ceccanese. I am pretty sure that forward Robert Slaney is still playing defence what with the injuries to Charlie Pens, Etienne Breton, and Daniel Fazzalari.
The Eagles will need the consistent and balanced attack from the top two lines that they got on Saturday night against the Mooseheads in their 7-3 victory, and will need the checking unit to really key on Gatineau's top forwards, against whom they'll likely be matched up for much of the evening.
Defencemen available for tonight: JC Sawyer, Oskars Bartulis, Jason Swit, Mark Barberio, and I believe that callup Spencer Corcoran is still with the team for the time being. As stated earlier, Robert Slaney has been playing on defence as of late and could do so again tonight. Sawyer and Bartulis will likely log major minutes what with the injuries on the blueline to Pens, Breton, and Fazzalari.
In goal, it's unsure as to who will start. Ondrej Pavelec struggled in his last outing, being pulled after three goals on five shots against Halifax on Friday night, but it was most likely due to him battling the flu that night. David Davenport was spectacular in relief that night and won the next night as well. The start could be given to Davenport based on his success in the last two games, but if his battle with the flu bug is over, the team might choose to give Pavelec the nod to try and get him going again. I'm not going to predict a starter because I'm quite unsure as to what they'll do.
On the powerplay, the Olympiques enter the game with the second-best rate in the league at 26.0%, while the Screaming Eagles are third at 24.9%. The Eagles' top powerplay unit currently consists of Sheppard, Fergus, and Ouellet up front with Sawyer and McIlveen on the points. McIlveen is playing the right point on the PP because of a slight injury to Oskars Bartulis that hampers his ability to shoot the puck.
On the penalty kill, Cape Breton has fallen slightly over the past couple of games, dropping from third overall to fifth, with a PK % of 81.8%. Gatineau is doing surprisingly poorly in this area, with a PK % of just 77.4%, for 14th overall in the league, or fifth-to-last.
WHAT IT MEANS
A chance for the Eagles to tie Moncton for second place in the division standings, and to move to within five points of Lewiston for the division lead. A chance for Cape Breton to prove that they can match up well against and defeat this fellow contender for the league title. If the Eagles want to prove that they're the real contender that most think they are this season, it would be good to prove that we can beat these guys.
As said earlier, it's always a treat to see a team from the West Division for once, so here's to a good game between two of the league's top teams tonight!