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Young D-men thrust into Bruins-Canadiens rivalry

by Kevin Weekes

The Wednesday Night Rivalry doesn't get much more intense than when the Montreal Canadiens face the Boston Bruins. It's one of hockey's greatest rivalries, and this week's game, at Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN-HABS), will have us talking about an important player who isn't playing.

With the Canadiens, the biggest challenge is getting goaltender Carey Price healthy right now. When can he get back in the net? With Price out, Montreal will turn to either Peter Budaj or Dustin Tokarski against the Bruins.

We might not get the Price-Tuukka Rask matchup we were all hoping for, but there are several great young defensemen I'll be watching in this game.

A guy that I really like is Montreal's Jarred Tinordi. The 6-foot-6 defenseman is the son of Mark Tinordi, who played 12 seasons in the NHL. In the younger Tinordi, I see a Dan Girardi-type of blueliner. I see some similarities in their games, plus each played for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. It will be interesting to see how he continues his NHL progression. He's mobile, long, rangy, nasty and physical.

I spoke to Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin about Tinordi the other day, and he was saying that they were impressed with him out of camp, but they felt he needed some more time. So they sent him down to Hamilton of the American Hockey League. Now they've recalled him and he's looking really good. He'll get a big test from the division rival Bruins.

His arrival couldn't have come at a better time now that another Canadiens defenseman, Josh Gorges, is out until the end of the regular season with a hand injury. That loss is big for the Canadiens just because he plays a certain role. He's a stay-at-home defenseman and he does a lot of little intangible things, like blocking shots, challenging plays with his stick, taking hits and giving hits. I really think they'll miss him back there, but that's another reason why having Tinordi up is so helpful. I think he's ready and will help offset the loss of Gorges.

He hasn't been in Montreal long, but Thomas Vanek has vanished. I see him giving guys a lot of instruction on the bench, but he's just got to get out there and play. Make no mistake, that was a great move by Bergevin to get Vanek. Whether he re-signs with Montreal this summer, he is now on a playoff team and a good team. This is the opportunity for him to do something special in a great hockey market playing for one of the most iconic franchises in our sport.

The Bruins have been solid all season, but for some reason Montreal has owned them, winning five of the past six games. Give Montreal credit, because they've been able to do it against a Boston team that is a Stanley Cup contender.

I've been saying this all the time, but there is no answer right now for that top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla. What line does Montreal play against them? What defensive combo do they go with for the matchup? That line is among the top five in hockey; maybe even in the top three. And they've only gotten better as the season has gone on. They added Jarome to the mix and they've developed more and more chemistry. That chemistry took some time, but it now looks like they've been playing together for years.

Getting back to the theme of young defensemen, Torey Krug has also been great for Boston. Just look at his goal total. Entering action Tuesday, Krug ranked fifth among NHL defensemen with 13 goals. After he emerged during the playoffs last year, some people may have thought he was just a flash in the pan or a one-trick pony. He's played valuable minutes and been the key guy on the point on the power play. He shoots bombs and competes. He's exceeded expectations, which is what he's done his whole life.

Krug had a huge impact on the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but this season he's taken his game to a whole new level. He's one of my Calder Trophy candidates, but I still think he hasn't gotten the press he deserves. He's been awesome and made a real seamless transition.

Another young Bruins defenseman people aren't talking about enough is my man Dougie Hamilton. His game has really improved this year, and he's only 20 years old. He's done a great job and is looking more and more confident. He's come a long way.

Any young defenseman on the Bruins benefits from playing with a true pro like Zdeno Chara. With a guy like Chara, you know what you're getting all the time. That includes work ethic both at the rink and away from the rink, as well as professionalism; he's the whole package. You're getting it all at an elite level. That's a great example for a young player to have to help learn the game and the business.

So when these teams meet Wednesday in Montreal, we'll be getting a look at the past, present and future of one of hockey's great rivalries.

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