Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 4:24 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Gomez nearing return for Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez practiced with his teammates for a second straight day and looks to be on his way to a return from an upper-body injury that has cost him the past 19 games.

He looked to be close to a return last month when he began practicing, but he was sent right back on the shelf when he re-aggravated the injury.

"I tried to rush it last time a little bit and there was a setback," Gomez said after Monday's skate, "so you don't want that to happen again."

Gomez skated on left wing on a line with David Desharnais and Erik Cole on Monday, taking the place of Max Pacioretty, who was home with the flu.

Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth said he was not sure whether or not Pacioretty would be back for Tuesday's game against the St. Louis Blues, but it is clear Gomez will not be ready in time.

"We're looking at it fairly soon, but he's not quite there," Cunneyworth said. "He's been working hard and it would be great to get him back."

The question is where Gomez would fit in the lineup when he is ready to play. The top three center spots are currently filled by Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller. While Desharnais and Eller would be the natural candidates to lose their spot to Gomez, both have been playing very well of late and each had more ice time than Plekanec in Montreal's 3-1 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

"It's a nice problem to have," Cunneyworth said. "Any time you have an abundance of quality guys who can play well, decisions have to be made."

Gomez's performance on the ice coupled with his huge salary cap figure has not exactly made him a popular figure in Montreal. He has just 4 assists in 13 games this season, and dating back to the start of last season Gomez has 7 goals, 35 assists and a minus-18 rating in 94 games. Still, Cunneyworth sees him as an important part of his team's fortunes as it attempts to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

"I think he's a top-six guy with his skills and presence on the ice," Cunneyworth said. "That remains to be seen (where he plays in the lineup), it will come through his play. Any line we put him on, it will make it a more skilled group. If he's on the first line or the fourth line, he has to do what he does best."

This is one of the few times in Gomez's career he's missed a significant portion of the season to injury. Since his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 he has only missed more than six games in any given season on one occasion, when he played 72 games for the Devils in 2006-07. Having already missed 28 games, including a nine-game absence earlier this season, Gomez is guaranteed to establish a new career-low for games played.

"It's been a while since I sat out this much," Gomez said. "No one wants to be in this position, you just don't feel a part of it. It's a bad feeling, you don’t feel like you're contributing. You feel like you're in the way."
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 3:29 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Seven Up: Habs, Lightning could both dress extra d-man

MONTREAL – A traditional hockey lineup consists of 12 forwards, six defensemen and a goalie, but there are two teams facing off at Bell Centre tonight who see that template differently.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher regularly used seven defensemen and 11 forwards last season on his way to the Eastern Conference final, while Montreal Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth rotated seven defensemen in a 7-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

Cunneyworth appeared to be leaning towards doing the same thing tonight against the Lightning even though the return of Brian Gionta to the lineup makes it somewhat unnecessary. Meanwhile, the only reason Boucher hasn’t used it more this season is because he simply hasn’t had enough healthy defensemen to do it.

That may change tonight as newly acquired defenseman Brendan Mikkelson is available to play.

“When you play with seven D it gets guys like Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis on the ice more often, and it also means you’re defensemen are playing fewer minutes,” Boucher said. “It’s something I’ve used in the past, actually I’ve used it almost every year except this one. But if that’s something we can do, it’s something I would look forward to.”

As for Cunneyworth, his decision to dress seven defensemen Wednesday meant Chris Campoli, Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill essentially split the third-pairing minutes. It also meant right wing Erik Cole was double and sometimes triple-shifted, resulting in a career-high 27:04 of ice time.

While it would appear that is not a system that could be used on a long-term basis, Cunneyworth didn’t agree, particularly with Gionta being able to take some of those extra shifts from Cole on the right side.

“If the results are there, certainly,” Cunneyworth said when asked if the seven defenseman lineup was sustainable. “I think it creates pressure to perform (on defense). There’s some competition to play the right way, and I think that can be a good thing.”

Gill – who has played 22:35 combined over the past two games – received the fewest minutes among the seven defensemen Wednesday, and while he didn’t want to complain about it he wasn’t exactly thrilled with it either.

“I’d like to play the role the team needs me to play,” he said. “But obviously I’d like to play more.”

The Canadiens had some good news on the injury front as center Scott Gomez was back skating with his teammates for the first time since suffering a setback in his recovery from an upper-body injury about three weeks ago.

“He’s coming along,” Cunneyworth said. “He appears to be on the mend, so we’re upping the ante little.”

The Canadiens and Lightning enter the game tied in points at 37 apiece, with Tampa holding a game in hand. It makes the contest a four-point game between two playoff teams from last season who find themselves in a desperate fight to book a ticket to this spring’s edition.

Some may find it early to be using the term “desperate,” but the NHL’s goal scoring leader Steven Stamkos is not one of them.

“I don’t think it’s early, we’re halfway done here,” Stamkos said. “These are the game we have to win. You don’t win these games, there’s no race. You’re not even in the discussion for the playoffs. We have to show some desperation. We’re in the same boat as these guys, so it should be a good game tonight.”
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 2:06 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Lineups in flux for Lightning, Canadiens

MONTREAL – The lineups for both the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are difficult to project ahead of tonight’s game.

Neither team went through line rushes at their morning skate and both teams are considering dressing seven defensemen, but for entirely different reasons.

In the Lightning’s case, the possible return of Ryan Malone from an upper-body injury that has cost him two games and the arrival of newly-acquired defenseman Brendan Mikkelson from the Calgary Flames give coach Guy Boucher the option of going either way, depending on Malone’s status come game time.

The loss of former Habs prospect JT Wyman to an upper-body injury in Ottawa on Thursday is mitigated by the return of Brett Connolly from the Canadian national junior team. Minor-league call-up Pierre-Cedric Labrie, a native of Baie-Comeau, Que., will play his first NHL game.

For the Canadiens, coach Randy Cunneyworth will have captain Brian Gionta available after an 11-game absence with a groin injury. He also said he may dress seven defensemen, but that decision would be based on how successful the team was with that lineup in their 7-3 win against Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Cunneyworth did not tip his hand either way, but it would appear he will be going with seven defensemen tonight based on what some of the players said. If that’s the case, one of Mathieu Darche or Michael Blunden would have to come out, and considering Blunden has seen his role increase considerably since Cunneyworth took over behind the bench eight games ago, Darche could be the odd man out.

Cunneyworth also said defenseman Alexei Emelin, who took a puck in the face at practice Friday, is expected to play with a full cage depending on how he felt after participating fully in the morning skate.
Just about the only thing set in stone is the goaltending matchup, with Boucher electing to go with former Habs goalie Mathieu Garon to face Carey Price, who starts for the 15th time in 16 games.

Here are the very tentative lineups for tonight’s game:


Michael CammalleriTomas PlekanecBrian Gionta
Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisErik Cole
Travis MoenLars EllerAndrei Kostitsyn
Michael BlundenPetteri Nokelainen
Josh GorgesP.K. Subban
Alexei EmelinRaphael Diaz
Tomas KaberleChris Campoli
Hal Gill

Carey Price

Martin St. LouisSteven StamkosSteve Downie
Dominic Moore (Ryan Malone) – Vincent LecavalierBrett Connolly
Tom PyattNate ThompsonTeddy Purcell
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Dana Tyrell
Eric BrewerPavel Kubina
Brett ClarkMatt Gilroy
Marc-Andre BergeronBruno Gervais
Brendan Mikkelson (If Malone is out)

Mathieu Garon
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 4:52 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Habs' captain Gionta appears set to return

Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta looks ready to return to the lineup for Saturday's home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gionta has missed the past 11 games with a groin injury, one of a few key Canadiens components currently on the shelf.

The Canadiens went 4-7-0 and replaced head coach Jacques Martin with Randy Cunneyworth on an interim basis in Gionta's absence.

"You never want to miss time," Gionta told reporters after practice Friday. "Obviously it was a little worse than what we thought at first, but it was something we needed to take care of. There's still half a season left, so hopefully there's time for us to come back."

While Gionta's return was not 100 percent confirmed, the club sent forward Louis Leblanc back down to the minors following Wednesday night's game, which is a good indication that Gionta should be back.

Gionta was skating on the right side of a line with Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec at practice, while the big line of the moment consisting of Lars Eller between Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn remained intact.

Eller had 4 goals and an assist, Moen had 3 assists and Kostitsyn had 2 assists in Wednesday's big 7-3 home win over the Winnipeg Jets.

But Gionta warned that his teammates should not allow that game to veer them off the course of their long-term goal.

"We've talked about it all year, it's the consistency," he said. "We played a great game, we did the things we needed to do to be successful. But we need to do that night in and night out."

The win was just Montreal's second in nine games, and Saturday night the Canadiens will be looking to string two or more wins together for just the fourth time all season.

While Gionta prepares to make a return, defenseman Alexei Emelin had a scare at practice when he took a Yannick Weber wrist shot off the left cheek. He left the practice spitting blood, but Cunneyworth said the puck hit the "fleshy" part of the cheek and the hard-hitting defenseman should be alright for Saturday's game.

Emelin had to have a plate inserted in his left cheek after losing a fight in 2009 against former NHLer Alexander Svitov while playing in the KHL.

Cunneyworth also said that injured center Scott Gomez should be the next player to come off the injured list, though he has yet to practice with his teammates. Ryan White and Andrei Markov have not played a game this season. White's return remains unknown, while Markov will be out until at least the All-Star break at the end of the month.

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Habs' home struggles go up against Jets' road woes

MONTREAL -- Something will have to give Wednesday night when one of the League's worst home teams faces one of the League's worst on the road at the Bell Centre.

The Montreal Canadiens have a League-low five wins in 18 games on home ice (5-7-6), which is a big reason why they sit 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference.

Montreal is coming off a 1-5-0 road trip and this will be interim coach Randy Cunneyworth's second game at the Bell Centre since he was named to replace Jacques Martin on Dec. 17. The Canadiens play six of their next seven and 11 of their next 15 games at home.

"We didn't get the wins we needed on the road," Cunneyworth told reporters at the team's suburban practice facility. "It's time to start winning at home."

Meanwhile, the visiting Winnipeg Jets enter the game as one of the League's worst road teams, with just five wins in 17 games (5-8-4). Only Carolina, Anaheim and Columbus have fewer wins on opposing rinks, and this game marks the first in a stretch where the Jets will play 14 of their next 19 games on the road.

However, forward Eric Fehr believes that road record is a bit misleading because the bulk of those games were played prior to December, when the Jets played 12 of 14 games at home and went 10-3-1 to get themselves back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

"It's not as accurate as it looks," Fehr said of the Jets' road record. "We didn't get off to the start we wanted, we were getting adjusted to a new coach and a new city, but that's when we had a lot of those road games. We're a different team now with a different identity."

Head coach Claude Noel -- who gave a statement in French prior to speaking to local reporters -- agreed with Fehr's assessment of the situation.

"We're becoming a team that's hard to play against," Noel said. "Some people look at that from a physicality standpoint, but I'd say we're becoming a hard team to play against from a checking standpoint. …We play a good, strong game for each other. I like the way we're playing."

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 2:56 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Jets, Canadiens

MONTREAL -- Here are the expected lineups for tonight's game, though the Canadiens held an optional skate so changes are possible by game time:


Blake Wheeler - Tim Stapleton - Evander Kane
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Eric Fehr - Alexander Burmistrov - Chris Thorburn
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

The Jets will welcome back two players from injuries, while another looks to be approaching a return. Regular top line center Bryan Little skated with his teammates for the first time since suffering a foot injury on Dec. 17, costing him the last six games.

"It felt good," Little said. "I'd say I'm day-to-day now."

Little ruled out a return against Montreal or Thursday night in Toronto, but said it was possible in Buffalo on Saturday.

Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien remains out for the Jets, but Jones will return to the lineup after missing practically the entire season with two injuries. An ankle ailment cost him 15 games earlier this season, and then after two games in the lineup he suffered a back injury that has kept him out of the last nine contests.

Slater will also return after missing two games with an upper-body injury.

Pavelec has a 4-2-1 record with a 2.10 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and two shutouts in seven career games against Montreal.


Erik Cole - Tomas Plekanec - Michael Cammalleri
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Michael Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Chris Campoli

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Hal Gill - Tomas Kaberle  

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

For the Canadiens, captain Brian Gionta skated with the team for a second straight day but is not ready to return from a groin injury that has cost him 10 games, though it appears he should be back for Saturday night's home game against Tampa.

Center Scott Gomez, wing Ryan White and defenseman Andrei Markov remain out, though Gomez and White are skating on their own.

Campoli, a defenseman, is expected to dress as a forward in the place of rookie Louis Leblanc.
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Posted On Sunday, 01.01.2012 / 4:18 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - Live from New Year's Day practices

Talbot, a Classic vet, doles out advice

Having played outdoors last year in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Flyers forward Max Talbot was doling out some advice to his teammates Sunday morning before they hit the ice at Citizens Bank Park for practice ahead of the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic.

Talbot knows how impressive it can be for players to walk out to the rink in the middle of a huge stadium for the first time, and how that might impact the way certain players approach practice.

Except Sunday’s practice was more important than most, and Talbot wanted to be sure his teammates took full advantage of it.

“This morning I went to see a couple of the rookies and the young players and also my linemates,” Talbot said. “I just wanted them to visualize the stands full and that there was another team on the ice, not to just come and practice for the fun of it. We won’t have a morning skate tomorrow, and it’s different. It’s tough to get your bearings and the game starts quickly so we need to be ready. It’s two big points.”

Talbot was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins for last year’s game against the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field, and there were many differences he noticed from one year to the next.

“It’s a bit different going from a football stadium to a baseball stadium, it seems like the seats are a lot closer,” he said. “But I really liked the ice conditions today. It was better than last year.”
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Posted On Sunday, 01.01.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - Live from New Year's Day practices

Classic a family affair for Couturier

Sean Couturier may be the youngest player on the Philadelphia Flyers, but it is that very fact that gives him a good dose of experience when it comes to playing in the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic.

“I’m a young guy, so three or four years ago I was still playing outside with my friends,” said Couturier, who just turned 19 last month. “So this is pretty cool.”

It is so cool, in fact, that Couturier has decided to share the moment with as many of his loved ones as possible. His parents will be part of a contingent of 13 members of his family and friends who are in Philadelphia to watch Monday’s main event.

“It’s going to be very special for them,” Couturier said. “It’s not every day you get to play outside. So I think they’re going to appreciate the moment.”

Couturier returned to action Thursday night for the Flyers, notching a pair of assists in Philadelphia’s 4-2 win in Pittsburgh. He missed four games recovering from an ear problem suffered in a 6-0 loss to Boston on Dec. 17 when Couturier was hit behind the ear by a shot.

He said the ear felt like it was completely blocked when it was at its worst, but that his hearing is practically fully returned now.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 6:17 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Habs shake things up at practice

BROSSARD, Que. – The Montreal Canadiens and their embattled coach Randy Cunneyworth made some wholesale changes to their line combinations at practice Monday, and it looks as though two young players who were punished as healthy scratches last game are the biggest beneficiaries.

Defenseman P.K. Subban – the team leader in ice time – and center Lars Eller watched the Canadiens 4-0 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday from the press box.

But at practice Monday, Subban was on Montreal's top defense pairing with Josh Gorges and Eller was centering what could be considered the Canadiens top forward line between the team's top two goal scorers – Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole.

The two players went from sitting out as healthy scratches to playing prominent roles in the lineup over the break, a Christmas present that both Subban nor Eller could have seen coming based on what happened in Winnipeg.

"When you're not getting the results, you have to make some changes, try some things," Cunneyworth said after a high-energy, one hour skate at the Canadiens suburban practice facility.

The Canadiens therefore broke up their most productive line that had David Desharnais between Pacioretty and Cole. Desharnais is now centering a line with Mike Cammalleri and rookie Louis Leblanc while Tomas Plekanec was between Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen. Petteri Nokelainen was centering Michael Blunden and Mathieu Darche on the fourth line.

On defense, after the Subban-Gorges pairing, Hal Gill was with Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin was paired with Tomas Kaberle.

However, Cunneyworth later noted that "nothing is set in stone" when it comes to his lineup for Tuesday night's game in Ottawa.

"This isn't about me, it's about the team," Eller said. "We had two days off, so it will give us a chance to get a fresh start with a new mindset. I just want to help the team win."

Subban called it embarrassing to be a healthy scratch in Winnipeg, but after posting a minus-5 rating in his three previous games – and admitting publicly having cost his team with glaring errors in losses in Boston and Chicago – he said he needed to make sure he played well enough so he would never find himself in the same situation again.

"If I have the chance to play, I have to do my job," he said. "If there are six or seven guys who are playing better than me, and if that's what the coach thinks, that's the decision he's going to make. You can't be surprised. It's a part of the job. He asked me to sit down and that's what I did. I sat down. I don't know if I'll be back in the lineup, but if I am, I'm going to try to play the way I know I can."

With 46 games left, the Canadiens (13-16-6) sit 12th in the Eastern Conference and are in serious risk of drifting out of the playoff picture if they can't turn things around quickly. After Tuesday night's game in Ottawa, Montreal will complete its season-long six-game road trip with visits to the Lightning on Thursday and the Panthers on Saturday.

Captain Brian Gionta and center Scott Gomez will not make the trip while both nurse injuries. Long-term casualties Ryan White and Andrei Markov – neither of whom has played a game this season – are not close to a return.

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Posted On Thursday, 12.15.2011 / 1:06 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Habs, Flyers are hurting

BROSSARD, Que. -- Both the Flyers and the Canadiens will be missing their captains when the teams meet tonight at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

The Flyers have been without Chris Pronger for nearly a month due to concussion-type symptoms, as well as knee surgery that would have sidelined him anyway until the end of the month, at the earliest.

Philadelphia also will play its second game without Claude Giroux, the League's leading scorer.

The Flyers are also missing rookie center Brayden Schenn due to a concussion, though he skated with the team Wednesday, the first time since he was injured Dec. 3 against Phoenix. Also working his way back is defenseman Andreas Lilja, out with a high ankle sprain suffered Nov. 25. Neither will play tonight.

Canadiens captain Brian Gionta will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury. He'll be joined as a spectator tonight by forward Travis Moen, who left Tuesday's 5-3 win against the Islanders with a lower-body injury. Also, defenseman Raphael Diaz is out with an illness.

They'll be replaced by AHL call-up Michael Blunden and Alexei Emelin, the hard-hitting rookie who was a healthy scratch Tuesday.

Those injuries are added to the long-term absences of defenseman Andrei Markov and centers Scott Gomez and Ryan White.

Here's which healthy players will be dressing for the teams tonight, and how the forward lines and defense pairings could look.

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Quote of the Day

For us it's a little bit different. I've never been in front of this much media. This is more than we've ever had to deal with in Tampa. I guess we're on a little bit bigger stage now. It's nice, you have to enjoy it. This doesn't happen too often.

— Lightning forward J.T. Brown after his first Media Day experience on Tuesday in preparation of Game 1 on Wednesday