BROSSARD, Quebec -- A big reason why the Montreal Canadiens were able to ride a strong start to the 2012-13 season into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second seed in the Eastern Conference came down to the team's relative health.
The Canadiens did not have to deal with too many major injuries for most of last season. When they did come, though, they came in bunches.
It began with defenseman Alexei Emelin's knee injury April 6 and continued in the playoffs with forwards Lars Eller, Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust and Ryan White all getting hurt during Montreal's five-game, first-round loss to the Ottawa Senators.
The Canadiens were unable to recover from the loss of those players, and a big reason was because they didn't learn how to deal with massive losses like that in the regular season.
That shouldn't be a problem this season.
With the Canadiens announcing Monday that Prust will miss four weeks with a shoulder injury, the list of injured players represents close to a third of Montreal's regular roster.
Emelin remains out until at least the end of November and fellow defenseman Douglas Murray has a few weeks remaining before he recovers from an upper-body injury. Davis Drewiske, another defenseman, is out until at least March after undergoing shoulder surgery last week.
Up front, right wing Daniel Briere sustained his third concussion in the last 21 months during a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday and is out indefinitely. That came two games after Pacioretty was lost for three weeks with a left hamstring strain, and George Parros remains out indefinitely as he recovers from a concussion he sustained opening night Oct. 1.
While Emelin, Murray and Parros are skating, coach Michel Therrien said none of them will be returning "in the short term."
"As a group you never like to see guys getting hurt and missing those guys for a long period of time," Therrien said after practice Monday. "It's going to be a challenge; we're going to give opportunities to different guys to see what they're capable of doing. It's going to be up to them to take full advantage of it."
One player who is getting the biggest opportunity is rookie forward Michael Bournival, who was told by the team after practice Monday to look for a full-time residence in Montreal. Bournival skated on the Canadiens' second line Monday with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, two players Therrien trusts to play in difficult situations.
Bournival now will be placed in those delicate situations, whereas just a week ago he was wondering if he would be getting into the lineup.
"The [injured] players are going to come back so it's up to me to take advantage of the opportunity and work hard and show what I can do," Bournival said. "[Plekanec and Gionta] are two good players and I'm happy to play with them. If I have questions I'll be able to ask them. But I won't be trying to look for them all the time on the ice; I'll try to make the right play when it's there. If not I'll just try to keep it simple."
The Canadiens' identity under Therrien has been that of a team that comes at opponents in waves, with three lines that are dangerous offensively. It gives opposing coaches matchup problems because the line they may choose to focus on defensively may not be the one that ultimately hurts them.
On Saturday Nashville coach Barry Trotz decided to use his top defense pair of Shea Weber and rookie Seth Jones against the line of Eller, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. That was the only line that scored and was the only line that consistently produced scoring chances against the Predators.
"I'm happy that other teams are paying attention to that line," Therrien said. "It's good news for us, it's good news for them, it's good news for the organization."
In theory that should make things easier on the other two scoring lines, which might place some added pressure on center David Desharnais and linemates Rene Bourque and Travis Moen to produce offensively. Desharnais has one assist in eight games despite being the center with the most power-play ice time on the team, while Moen has two assists and Bourque has two goals and an assist.
Since breaking out with 60 points in 81 games in 2011-12, Desharnais has 10 goals and 19 assists in 56 games.
"We're a team where every game we need different people contributing," Desharnais said. "If the focus is on Eller's line, the two or three other lines have to do their part. Our line has got to be better and the guys coming in from Hamilton [American Hockey League] need to help the team out."
The players from Hamilton are Mike Blunden and Patrick Holland, who will play with Ryan White on the fourth line Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers at Bell Centre, which will mark Holland's first NHL game.
It will be a first test for a Canadiens team depleted by injuries and in a sense could be a lesson for a team that didn't have to deal with a situation like this until the stakes were at their highest last season.
"I think the mentality needs to stay the same," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "We've hit some injuries here early but you have options. Do you tuck your tail between your legs and hide in the corner until we get guys back? Or do you push forward and face this adversity head on? It's not going to be easy; we're going to need to do it collectively as a group. If we do, we'll be all right."
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