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Change is good

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – While playing back-to-back afternoon games over Super Bowl weekend might be something some teams frown upon, the Canadiens are wholeheartedly embracing the opportunity to mix things up a little.

On Saturday, Michel Therrien’s troops will entertain the Washington Capitals at 1 p.m. EST before battling the Arizona Coyotes at the same time on Sunday. It will mark the 24th time in team history that the Canadiens will contest two games in as many days ahead of the NFL’s biggest event of the year. The Habs boast an 11-8-3-1 record in the opening game of the weekend set, and a 13-9-1-0 record in the second.

“It’s two afternoon games. There’s no real excuse [for playing poorly]. We all like playing afternoon games. You wake up, get ready for the game and you go. There’s not much thinking involved. We want to try and build off the last game against New York. Personally, I like these games. Hopefully, I can prove it now,” offered Max Pacioretty, who scored the game-winning goal in the Habs’ 1-0 shutout win over the Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. “Sometimes, the game day routine gets a bit too boring. You do the same thing every time. It’s nice to change it up.”

That was the clear consensus inside the Canadiens’ locker room as the club wrapped up practice on Friday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex, looking to extend their current winning streak to five straight games.

“Some guys like it, but some guys don’t. It messes up your regular routine. I really like it, though. You just get up in the morning and get going for the game. You get one good meal in you and go play. It takes you back to your minor hockey days. Regardless of the time, you’re just expected to show up and play the game. That’s the part I like about it,” explained Brendan Gallagher, who will be watching Sunday’s Patriots-Seahawks matchup alongside his dad, Ian, a devout New England supporter. “There’s just less preparation that goes into it. It’s hockey. You rely on your instincts. It makes it a little bit more enjoyable waking up that way.”

Like his players, Therrien admits that while scenarios like these can be somewhat uncomfortable, it’s ultimately a level playing field for all involved.

“It’s an adjustment for everybody, but it’s the same for both teams. We have to adjust, so do they. Things happen fast when it comes to afternoon games. It takes everyone out of their comfort zone,” offered Therrien, whose squad is set to play its 11th set of back-to-back games during the 2014-15 campaign and first entirely on home ice. “The thing that’s great about it, though, is that it gives an opportunity for young kids to come to the Bell Centre. I’ve been with this organization for a few years. It’s always a fun atmosphere over Super Bowl weekend.”

The Capitals, however, will undoubtedly be looking to spoil what should be a festive atmosphere on Saturday afternoon. Barry Trotz’s contingent snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, and they enter the game having won the last seven meetings with the Canadiens in front of the Bell Centre faithful dating back to March 2011 – four by way of a shutout.

“They’re always really tough to play against. For whatever reason, they’re a big strong team and they’re fast. We haven’t really opened up the scoring against them as long as I can remember,” mentioned Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 39 points, a plus-23 differential and 171 shots on goal through 47 games this season. “We’ve got to remember to stay with it and grind for 60 minutes. It’s going to be a game where we have to be patient, wait for our opportunities and take advantage of them when they come.”

They’ll also have to stymie the likes of Alex Ovechkin, who took over the top spot in the league in goals with his 28th and 29th markers of the year in the win over Pittsburgh.

“I think he’s obviously someone who’s very dangerous. You have to pay attention to him. We’ve certainly played against top-end players before. We know how to handle it. It just takes a little bit more preparation,” concluded Gallagher, who is still looking to pick up his first career point against the Capitals. “He’s a guy that you have to focus on and you can’t forget. It’s just something that we have to be aware of. You don’t change too much, but you keep him in mind.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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