The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles have a golden opportunity tonight to move into sole possession of second place in the East Division, in the form of a meeting with the Moncton Wildcats, who they trail by just one point for that second spot.
However, they're going to have to try and get it done without a bevy of key players.
Sitting out tonight's game for sure are Scott Brannon (concussion), Luc Bourdon (ankle), and Dean Ouellet (lower body). The latter two, as you likely recall, left Sunday afternoon's game and did not return. Thankfully, their injuries are being reported as "day to day" in nature, as opposed to anything long-term.
As well, Cam Fergus (upper body) and Jonathan Laberge (personal) will likely be out of the Cape Breton lineup tonight.
Add it all up, and that's five key players missing, assuming that all of those guys do indeed sit out. Four of those players are forwards, leaving the Eagles with just nine healthy forwards, or enough for just three lines. Given that, the team will likely call up an affiliate forward or two for tonight's game. Line combinations are really anyone's guess, although it should be reasonably safe to assume that the Culligan-Sheppard-Slaney combination from the last hockey game will remain intact (and should be counted upon for a large chunk of tonight's work).
With so many key players out of the lineup, the guys that are playing tonight will go into the game knowing that they won't stand a chance against this Wildcat team if they give anything less than a full 60-minute effort. This is a challenge that, should the Eagles embrace it, could produce very rewarding results, and really remind our team of the virtues of hard work (which seemed to be forgotten at times on Friday night vs Rimouski). Tonight's game could be looked at as a real character-building opportunity, and for that reason I look forward to seeing how our depleted lineup fares.
Ondrej Pavelec will be back between the pipes tonight for Cape Breton, while Moncton could counter with either of two strong goaltenders; Jhase Sniderman or Nicola Riopel. Considering that he shut us out in the last meeting between the two teams, my guess is that we'll face Sniderman.
Also, tonight's game marks the return of Mark Barberio to C200 for the first time since being traded to the Wildcats in the Bourdon deal. It will mark his first of many appearances on our ice in a Wildcat uniform. Be sure to give this kid a warm reception, as he's a great player who never wanted to leave Cape Breton. It's going to be tough watching him develop into a franchise player in another team's uniform over the next few seasons.
Moncton has a gritty, in-your-face team that never stops skating, and we'll have to counter with equally hard work if we're to beat these guys tonight. It's a great opportunity to overtake these guys for second place, rather than fall three points behind them, so I think our guys should be pretty motivated. As well, the Eagles are really going to want to take advantage of this last home game before embarking on a very tough three-game road trip on the weekend.
Don't miss the battle for second place, tonight at C200.