BROSSARD – Heading into Saturday night’s clash against Toronto, only three of the six defensemen iced by Michel Therrien in the team’s regular season opener are left standing.
A mere 24 hours after the Canadiens announced that defensemen Jeff Petry (abdomen) and Tom Gilbert (knee) would require season-ending surgery, came the news that blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu will miss 2-3 weeks with a lower-body injury.
Perhaps the last thing coach Michel Therrien wanted to hear as his team prepares for a late season playoff push.
“Dealing with injuries is a challenge for everyone. It might be rare to see it happen to so many different players, but that's no excuse. It's a challenge to make the playoffs when your team is healthy, so when you missing pieces of your lineup, it is an even greater challenge,” noted coach Therrien, who also confirmed that the Canadiens plan on calling up both a forward and defenseman from the St. John’s IceCaps following their game on Friday night against the Utica Comets. “We don’t want to start changing our game plan because we believe in the way our team is structured. The guys coming up from the AHL are used to our style of play with the Canadiens. We are an aggressive team that plays an aggressive style since day one of training camp. None of that is going to change. Though we have a lack of experience on the back end, our forwards did a good job providing support and we did a really good job defensively last game.”
The absence of three Habs regulars on the back-end has opened the door for depth defensemen like Greg Pateryn, Victor Bartley and Mark Barberio to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.
“It doesn’t really change the way we play our game, but obviously between Beaulieu, Petry and Gilbert we are talking about some huge minutes on the back end. If you take three defensemen out of anyone’s lineup it’s going to be trouble,” added 14-goal scorer Dale Weise, who has registered four points in his last four games dating back to February 15 against Arizona. “The guys that have stepped in have done a great job of replacing them. Obviously Barbs has been unreal for us. I think he’s been great for us since joining the lineup. He skates well and shoots the puck. We have a lot of guys that have stepped up and done a great job.”
After spending the majority of the campaign watching from the press box, rearguard Greg Pateryn is focused on making every minute of additional ice-time count. As a result of the latest batch of injuries, the former Michigan Wolverine’s ice-time reached a career-high 21:38 in Wednesday night’s take-down of the league leading Washington Capitals.
“I just take it as an opportunity to work on my game and show my coaches and teammates what I am capable of and take pride in every shift. It’s a good chance to get some more experience. I am definitely looking to take advantage of my ice-time down this stretch, but right now I am just focusing on one game at a time. Don’t want to start looking forward too much because you can’t get caught up looking at the past, you have to focus on what’s in front of you,” explained Pateryn, who will suit up for his career high 18th game of the season - and seventh consecutive match - on Saturday night against the Maple Leafs.
“I feel good about my game. I feel like I am taking steps forward and progressing. With more minutes and the more games I play, I think I am continuing to take little steps forward. Playing with different defense partners is just part of this business. No matter who you are playing with, no matter what team you are playing on, you can be thrown out on the ice with someone new. I think everyone here is able to read off each other because everyone here is easy to play with.”
Presently sitting just five points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Habs will require a full team effort for the remaining 21 games left on the team’s schedule.
On Saturday night at the Bell Centre, the same group that banded together to defeat the NHL’s top team on Wednesday night will try to extend the Habs three game point-streak with a victory over the Maple Leafs.
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com
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