SUN Hockey Pool

Koivu set for Montreal return

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:04 PM ET

MONTREAL -- It will be another emotional night, of which there have been a few, for Saku Koivu at the Bell Centre Saturday night.

The former Montreal Canadiens captain returns to the city where he was the face of the franchise for a decade, though it was one of the least successful stretches in the history of the most successful team in hockey.

It wasn't Koivu's fault the Habs won only four playoff rounds and missed the playoffs five times (including three years in a row, 1999-2001) during the 13 seasons he called Montreal home.

Those were dark days for the Canadiens, but Koivu was one of the reasons to watch. Not better than a second-line centre, he had to play front-line minutes (kind of like Tomas Plekanec has to do now), played bigger than he was and gave and earned respect.

He suffered multiple injuries because of his all-out style. A big reason the Habs missed the playoffs those three years in a row was because Koivu missed 100 games over those seasons.

Right after that stretch, in the 2001-02 season, he played only three games as he battled and beat cancer.

Anybody who was there when he returned will tell you it was one of the most emotional and inspiring nights in a rink they've ever experienced.

To be considered one of the greats in Montreal, you have to win championships, heft the Stanley Cup on St. Catherine St.

Koivu never got close to doing that.

But off the ice, through the Habs' struggles and his own, he always remained poised and conducted himself with the class for which the Canadiens had become famous.

Through some difficult seasons, he was a reason to watch. He inspired both on and off the ice.

For that, Canadiens fans will thank him Saturday night when he returns with the Anaheim Ducks.

HEAR AND THERE

Kyle Wellwood has heard all the fat jokes but had to undergo another round of the "Wellfed" stuff when he was picked up (hope nobody got a hernia) off waivers by the San Jose Sharks. He's taking it in stride after getting the tubby reputation in Vancouver after a string of injuries kept him from working out, so he says. "That was something I fixed and now I've been in great shape. I've been under 180 pounds, so it's kind of a running joke; you still get the fat jokes when you're one of the lightest people in hockey. You just laugh and shake your head." ... When the Buffalo Sabres beat the Boston Bruins Thursday night, it was just the Blades' sixth win of the season (6-12-3) against Eastern teams holding a playoff spot, which goes a long way toward explaining why the Sabres aren't in the top eight, I suppose. They were 15-8-2 against everybody else.

THE BUZZ

Canucks grinder Tanner Glass went to Dartmouth and he has a degree in history, specializing in the history of imperialism. Teammate Aaron Volpatti, another plumber, went to another Ivy League institution, Brown. So things must get tense between the old hockey rivals, eh? "Fencing is more intense," said Glass ... The latest on Sidney Crosby and the all-star Game: Word now he is worried, probably legitimately so, about going and having the weekend turn into all about him and his concussion, detracting from the, ahem, "spectacle."

JUST SAYING

The Atlanta Thrashers are short of forwards, so that tells you even more how much they wanted to get rid of Ben Eager after sucker punching Toronto's Colby Armstrong. Anybody who knows Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay, knows he won't tolerate dumb or selfish hockey ... So, Carolina's Eric Staal and Detroit's Nik Lidstrom have been named the captains of the two teams for the all-star game and will pick the teams. They are going to have two assistant captains named "at a later date." Why not just give Staal his brother, Marc, and 'Canes goaltender Cam Ward, giving the crowd in Raleigh a clear favourite for which to root. Give Lidstrom the two Sedins and you're off and running.

JUST WONDERING

Peter Forsberg practising with the Avalanche? Really? It's not April 1, is it? ... Hey, Dean Lombardi: Was it worth it?

THE LAST WORD

New Jersey Devils forward Vladimir Zharkov scored his first NHL goal in his 49th NHL game the other night against the New York Islanders. "Finally," commented teammate Ilya Kovalchuk. "Hopefully it's not going to take him 60 games to get the next one." Ahem. Kettle? Pot's calling you.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

DANIEL BRIERE

Hard to believe the Philadelphia Flyers forward wasn't picked for the all-star game the first time around. He has the hottest stick in the NHL right now with 13 points in his past eight games, going into Friday night's action.

LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY

The Anaheim Ducks defender has 10 points in his past seven games (one goal and nine assists), making the 34-year-old Slovak the offensive go-to guy on the blue line in the NHL right now.

MARTIN BRODEUR

The veteran New Jersey Devils goaltender seems to have rediscovered his mojo. Over the past six games, he has a .938 save percentage, tops among Canadian-born goaltenders and sixth best over the past couple of weeks.

GO FIGURE

11

The number of goals New York Rangers forward Marian Gaborik has scored this season, out of 15, against the league bottom feeders. Gaborik had a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers in November, scored another hat trick against the New York Islanders, added a single against the Islanders and then scored four Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. His other goals have come against Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington and Tampa.

3

The number of games Buffalo Sabres centre Rob Niedermayer played before someone realized the spelling of his name on the back of his sweater was incorrect. It was spelled "Neidermayer." Ouch. "I didn't even notice to be honest with you," said Niedermayer. Given it's on the back of his sweater, that's understandable, I suppose. The veteran does have other things on his mind, like scoring his first goal of the season.

1

The number of games -- and counting -- in which the Pittsburgh Penguins have played without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin since they've been with the club. It happened for the first time Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils. Crosby is still out with that concussion (he missed his seventh game) and Malkin is struggling with a sore knee. Both are expected to be out until after the all-star break.

3

Not to turn this into a rip-John-MacLean thing or a how-great-a-coach-Jacques-Lemaire-is stat, but that's the number of times the Devils have scored four or more goals in 12 games under Lemaire. They managed to score four or more goals just four times in the 34 games they played under MacLean (9-23-2) before he was fired and replaced by Lemaire Dec. 23. The Devils are now 5-6-1 since Lemaire took over.

BIG GAMES

CHICAGO @ DETROIT

Saturday

A big weekend for the surging defending-champion Blackhawks starts with their long-time rival.

PHILADELPHIA @ CHICAGO

Sunday

First meeting of the season between 2010 Stanley Cup finalists kicks off NBC's weekly package.

DALLAS @ VANCOUVER

Monday

The Stars have been surprisingly good and are challenging Canucks for the Western Conference lead.

SAN JOSE @ LOS ANGELES

Thursday

Last chance for an NHL fix as this is the final game before the league shuts down for five-day all-star break.

CHECKING LINES WITH

Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens

Now, with your injury, you're going to have some time on your hands ... or maybe not. I guess rehab can take up more time than playing. What will you do with what spare time you have?

"I got the IPad, so I've been playing around on that a bit. I watched that documentary on Vince Lombardi on HBO, so I've been looking at some of the books on him lately (such as) "When Pride Still Mattered." There's another short one, too, so, I've been doing a little bit of Vince Lombardi reading lately. That's my latest thing."

So with your snazzy iPad, what website do you hit first?

"I check out the sports ones, so NHL.com, Biosteel.com, always, that's my homepage. Right now I look at the currency exchanges and the stock market, a little bit."

Is the strong Canadian dollar helping you or hurting you right now?

"It's killing me right now. It was back down to par, so I put in a trade today."

Are you a big movie guy?

"I love watching TV shows, all the HBO shows, huge on the HBO shows. They're fantastic, from "Rome" to "The Wire" to "Deadwood" to now "Boardwalk Empire." I'm also an "Office" man. I like "The Office" when I need a good laugh. Sometimes after a tough loss, I'll throw "The Office" on the plane and before long I catch myself giggling when I probably shouldn't be. It's a nice escape kind of that way. "Modern Family" is another good one. But "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is right up there. It would be right at the top. That's my routine."

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