BROSSARD, Quebec -- A long-anticipated return at Montreal Canadiens practice Friday was upstaged by the surprise return of an injured player and the death of a fan-favorite postgame celebration.
Defenseman P.K. Subban took part in his first full practice with the Canadiens, skating on a third defense pairing and on the team's second power-play unit with Francis Bouillon, but coach Michel Therrien would not confirm whether or not the newly signed player would be in his lineup Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres.
The surprise was seeing forward Max Pacioretty taking part in a two-hour practice with no restrictions just six days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy last Saturday that was supposed to keep him sidelined for three to four weeks. Pacioretty said doctors have given him the final say as to when he's ready to return, which means that original timeline is likely to be moved up considerably.
Carey Price will no longer be doing their "triple low-five" celebration after Canadiens victories, a revelation that elicited far more chatter among fans on social media than any of the good news regarding the returns of Subban and Pacioretty.
Though the news of the death of the postgame celebration may be trivial, it is an indication of the type of culture Therrien is attempting to foster on the Canadiens.
"I always like teams that are humble," he said in explaining his decision. "You have to respect the game, you have to respect the team and you have to respect the fans. So we decided the way we will celebrate this year when we win at the Bell Centre is to salute the fans, because they deserve it."
Of course, there can be no "triple-low five" unless Subban is in the lineup, and that remains in question following Friday's practice. The Canadiens play their traditional pair of Super Bowl weekend matinees Saturday and Sunday, and there will be no morning skate either day. So Friday's practice was the only tool Therrien and his staff had for determining whether Subban was ready to return, and the coach was non-committal about his plans.
"There's a difference between being in shape and game shape," Therrien said. "We have to be careful. You can't just think that he's a good athlete, so let's put him out there and good things are going to happen. I'm sorry, it doesn't work like that. I wish it did, but it doesn't happen like this."
Subban has been skating the past two weeks with the Missisauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League while he awaited the resolution of his contract negotiation with the Canadiens, which came to an end Monday evening when he signed a two-year, $5.75 million deal.
"The doctors kind of put it in my hands and said I couldn't really make it worse. It's my competitive nature to get out there and push it as much as I can and be ready. Everything's in my hands. Maybe they shouldn't have done that, because if it were up to me I'd play [Saturday]" -- Max Pacioretty
"I've felt good for a while now; I've been skating pretty hard for the last two weeks. I'm ready to go, but at the end of the day it's not my decision," Subban said. "This is about the team, it's not about whether I'm in the lineup or not."
Adding Subban's talent to the Canadiens defense would probably be hugely beneficial to the team. The way Therrien had his defense pairings set up Friday, he could have one of Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges or P.K. Subban on the ice at all times, a level of depth on defense that has not been seen on the Canadiens for quite some time.
"It's a good day to be a goalie," Price said with a smile.
While Subban's return to practice was expected, seeing Pacioretty on the ice was truly a surprise -- even though his history with injuries suggests it shouldn't be.
He won the Bill Masterton Trophy last season for coming back from a concussion and cracked vertebra in his neck, costing him the final 15 games of the regular season and seven Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2010-11. He also suffered a cracked rib earlier in the 2010-11 season, being rushed to a hospital after taking a puck to the ribs during a game against the Buffalo Sabres.
That cracked rib did not cost Pacioretty a single game, and he was cleared to return to action for the second round of the 2011 playoffs if the Canadiens had managed to win Game 7 of the first round against the Boston Bruins just two months after his concussion and cracked vertebra.
Now, six days after an emergency appendectomy, Pacioretty did not skip a single drill during a particularly long and taxing Canadiens practice one day after he first stepped on the ice since his surgery.
"The doctors kind of put it in my hands and said I couldn't really make it worse. It's my competitive nature to get out there and push it as much as I can and be ready," Pacioretty said. "Everything's in my hands. Maybe they shouldn't have done that, because if it were up to me I'd play [Saturday]."
Therrien would not confirm when Pacioretty could be ready to play, but he was impressed with what he saw from him Friday.
"It was a pleasant surprise," Therrien said. "Even though he missed a week of practice, he was keeping up with his teammates. That was a nice piece of good news."
Following Friday's practice, the Canadiens sent Mike Blunden back down to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. Blunden was called up when Pacioretty had his surgery last Saturday and served as the 13th forward in the three games since. Even with Subban being added to the Canadiens roster Tuesday, they were at the 23-man limit with Blunden while Pacioretty was on injured reserve.