Tonight's game at C200 is a showdown of sorts for second place, as the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles host the defending President's Cup champion Moncton Wildcats for the second time this season. Cape Breton won the previous matchup by a score of 5-2 back on November 5. The Wildcats are two points ahead of the Screaming Eagles in the East Division standings, so tonight's game is an ample opportunity for Cape Breton to pull into a tie for second place.
Cape Breton enters the game with a 19-11-1 record, good for 39 points, which has the Eagles standing at fourth overall in the 18-team Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The home team also enters tonight's game having won their last two; a 7-3 win over Halifax last Saturday and a 6-4 win over Gatineau this past Wednesday.
Moncton (20-10-0-1) enters tonight's game on quite the tear; they've won four in a row and have won eight of their last ten. This red-hot streak has a lot to do with the return from the NHL of star defenceman Luc Bourdon, who has been an absolute force most nights for the Wildcats since being sent back to junior by the Vancouver Canucks. With Bourdon, Andrew MacDonald, and Nathan Welton, the Wildcats have quite possibly the best "top three" on defence in the league. However, the Cats are still expected to be "sellers" during the upcoming Christmas trading period. They will almost certainly deal Bourdon to help build for the future, and will likely deal at least one of MacDonald and Welton. For tonight, however, the Eagles will have to deal with the Wildcats' "big three" on D.
Up front, Moncton is very young and is not overly deep in veteran/proven scoring, but they've evidently been finding ways to score enough goals to win hockey games. Their most noteworthy weapons up front are veterans Jerome Samson and Matt Marquardt. Samson, for sure the Wildcats' best offensive player, is a slick two-way forward who is putting up great numbers now that he's playing in a first line scoring role; last year with the powerhouse champion Wildcats, his role was on the third line. Moncton will not enjoy the services of their top scorer for much longer, however, as he will be going to the Val d'or Foreurs at the Christmas trade period to complete the trade made last January that netted the Wildcats the aforementioned Bourdon. Marquardt is a very big and physical power forward who has really come into his own as a goal scorer so far this season; his 22 goals leads the Wildcats. Other very good forwards for Moncton include Christian Gaudet, the two-way captain of last year's league champion, Phil Mangan, a recent pickup from the Ontario Jr A ranks who has had instant success in the Q, and Randy Cameron, a 17-year-old rookie who has been contributing from the get-go. As said, Moncton is not a hugely high-scoring team, and their only real consistently dangerous line is the Samson/Marquardt line, but they've been finding ways to win hockey games.
In goal, Moncton has a pretty solid tandem of veteran Jhase Sniderman and rookie Nicolas Riopel, the top goaltender selected in the 2005 QMJHL Midget Draft. The Cats have been using both regularly this season, with Sniderman getting slightly more playing time. Unsure as to a starter for them, but Riopel played in their last hockey game (5-1 win at Halifax on Wednesday), so perhaps it is Sniderman's turn to start.
From the Cape Breton side of the ice, expect a lineup pretty much similar to the one that defeated the Gatineau Olympiques on Wednesday night. The Screaming Eagles only have four for sure healthy defencemen (JC Sawyer, Jason Swit, Oskars Bartulis, Mark Barberio), but still managed to win on Wednesday night. Call-up dman Spencer Corcoran is a question mark at this point for tonight's game, as he left after the first period on Wednesday night after having reaggravated a minor injury. Tonight will be the last game for a while with the Eagles for Bartulis, as he leaves tomorrow for the Pool B World Junior Championships, where he'll represent his home country of Latvia.
Forward lines should be:
Dean Ouellet-Cam Fergus-Paul McIlveen
Chris Culligan-James Sheppard-Scott Brannon
Brendon MacDonald-Robert Slaney-Brad Gallant
Fourth line should be centered by JC Gauthier, with any mix of Stephen Ceccanese, Alex Quesnel, Francois Gauthier, and Mickey MacDonald on the wings. Ceccanese in my opinion should play for sure tonight, as he played an excellent hockey game on Wednesday night.
In goal, they might very well go back with Ondrej Pavelec after his solid performance on Wednesday night, but it's also a very real and totally fine possibility to go with David Davenport, who has also been playing very well as of late.
Powerplay: Cape Breton enters the game third in the league at 24.9%, while Moncton's powerplay is just 14th at 18.0%.
Penalty Killing: The Eagles enter tonight's contest with the 5th-best PK, at 81.5%. Moncton is also 14th in this category, with a PK % of 77.4%.
All in all, tonight's game is a battle for second place, a challenge for the Eagles' forwards to overcome the "big three" on Moncton's defence, and finally an opportunity for the Eagles' brass and fans to have a look at Marquardt and Bourdon, two names among the many that fans are considering as possibilities to be traded for during the upcoming Christmas trading period, to help the Eagles potentially make a run for the top in the second half of the season and the playoffs. I know that I will have a close eye on both of those guys.