While 23 members of the Montreal Canadiens will make their way to Toronto today for tomorrow night’s regular-season opener against the Maple Leafs,  five members of the Habs said goodbye to their teammates and made their way to Hamilton to join the Bulldogs and the start of the American Hockey League season.

At the conclusion of day two of the Teen Ranch bonding experience in Caledon, Ontario, the Canadiens announced five player cuts:  defencemen Yannick Webber and Matt Carle, forwards Ben Maxwell and the injured Tom Pyatt, and goaltender Curtis Sanford. 

No surprises, really. 

Webber deserves a full-time shot at the big team after a strong training camp.  The smooth-skating native of Switzerland doesn’t bring a lot of beef to the blue line, but he brings a big shot and a better sense of what it takes to be a complete defenceman in the National Hockey League.  However, he’s a victim of the numbers game and isn’t likely to see any action soon with the Habs unless:

A.  The injury bug bites, or

B. Ryan O’Byrne doesn’t live up to his pre-season billing

Carle is a smooth skating defenceman who didn’t look out of place during the pre-season, but is further down the depth chart.  Pyatt was a pleasant surprise during the exhibition season.  After coming over to Montreal in the trade that sent Chris Higgins to the Rangers in the Scott Gomez deal,  Pyatt showed a lot of hustle out there.  However, he’ll be doing his rehab as a member of the Bulldogs after having his bell rung, big time, in the opening seconds of the team’s final pre-season game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

As for Sanford, he had a strong training camp, as well.  But there was little doubt he was ticketed for Hamilton, even before they dropped the puck on the pre-season, what with Price and Halak your 1-2 tandem in goal. 

Or is that Halak and Price?  Truth be told, Halak was the better of the two goalies in pre-season play.  But the number one job is Price’s to lose.  After a spotty opening period in Saturday’s pre-season finale against the Sabres, Price came back with a solid closing 40 minutes and is, without question, the man of the hour in goal for this team.

For now.

So, as they get set to drop the puck at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night, the Canadiens go into the season with the following top three line combinations:

Brian Gionta-Scott Gomez-Max Pacioretty

Andrei Kostitsyn-Tomas Plekanec-Mike Cammalleri

Guillaume Latendresse-Max Lapierre-Matt D’Agostini

Line four will feature a mix of Glen Metropolit, Georges Laraque, Gregory Stewart, Travis Moen and Kyle Chipchura.  Interesting to note that the Canadiens have kept Chipchura up with the big team, even though he’s coming back from off-season shoulder surgery and didn’t suit up for a single pre-season game.  I know we’ve said this before, but you’ve got to believe that this will be Chipchura’s last shot at making this club, and remaining with this organization.  It’s been five long years since the Habs made Chipchura a first-round draft pick with the 18th overall selection.  And time is running out on this young man.

Some questions to ponder before the puck drop tomorrow night:

Can Pacioretty keep up with Gomez and Gionta and provide the bump and grind that the Canadiens need from him as a member of the number 1 line?  Or will Martin end up rotating a third on that line, which is entirely possible, based on the Coach’s planned strategy. 

Can Mike Cammalleri light a fire under Plekanec and Kostitsyn, two players who spent much of their time sleepwalking through last season?  Will Sergei’s demotion be a wake up call for big brother Andrei?  Or will Andrei spend his time sulking and simply going through the motions?

On the blueline, can Hal Gill be the effective defenceman he was as a member of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins?  Or will he simply be the slow, plodding blueliner who was booed out of a town as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Can Jaro Spacek make Habs fans forget about Mark Streit and help anchor the power play from the point?

The answers to those, and other questions, to come. Beginning tomorrow night.

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