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Julien: 'It's a matter of them bringing their best on a nightly basis'

The Habs head coach tinkered with his forward lines and hinted at some lineup changes on the backend on Wednesday

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - After suffering a tough loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens were back on the ice at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday and featured some changes to their forward trios.

The Habs didn't do line rushes, but Paul Byron was wearing a white jersey to signify he'd be joining Artturi Lehkonen and Max Domi, while Jordan Weal was in maroon to join a fourth-line pool that also contains Nate Thompson, Nick Suzuki, and Nick Cousins.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Take a look at the forward lines and defensive pairings from Wednesday's practice in Brossard.#GoHabsGo

For head coach Claude Julien, it's a matter of tinkering and trying to get the most out of all his combinations.

"There's a lot of good that has come out of those lines at times, and there are other times where you have to make changes. We're set with those lines for now. Every line as you can see… [Jesperi] Kotkaniemi the first few games on that line was pretty good. [Phillip] Danault's line has found their rhythm there in the last few games. When you look at Max, he's got Lehky [Artturi Lehkonen] on his left, and he had Shawzy [Andrew Shaw] on his right last year when things were going well," explained the coach. "So there are a few bodies that have been in and out of there. [...] We've seen a lot of good in each line. Now, it's a matter of just bringing that package together and having all of them bring their best on a nightly basis."

For his part, Kotkaniemi was pleased to find himself back in the middle between Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia after spending some time on the fourth line late in the Tampa game, although the sophomore forward isn't too fussy about who he skates with.

"Like I've said, of course I love playing with them," shared Kotkaniemi, who has two goals in six games this season. "But in the end, it doesn't matter where I'm playing; I'm just happy to be here."

On the backend, Julien acknowledged after practice that there was a good chance that rookie Cale Fleury would draw back into the lineup for Thursday's tilt against the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre.

The 20-year-old has been a healthy scratch the past four games, but is confident he's learning a lot even just by practicing at the top level.

"I think so. Just being on the ice every day with the best players in the world, in the NHL," said Fleury, the Canadiens' third-round pick (87th overall) in 2017. "Especially on our team, we have some really good defensemen for me to look up to. I just kind of pick up on things they do in practice every day."

Two of those fellow defensemen are captain Shea Weber and Victor Mete, now in his third NHL campaign. And given that Julien didn't move any bodies around among his defense pairings, that means Nos. 6 and 53 will continue patrolling the blue line together and will keep on building chemistry in the process.

"We talk a lot still on the bench, after practice, even in the changing room and stuff. So I think it's definitely growing," outlined Mete, who has 21 assists in 126 career NHL games. "We're still playing together, so we're still talking and building chemistry and everything. I think it's been pretty good."

Video: Victor Mete on his play with Shea Weber

At 2-2-2 through six games, the Canadiens have enjoyed some success but know they have to keep the pedal to the metal if they want to avoid missing out on valuable points in the standings like they did on Tuesday against the Lightning.

"We have to work for 60 minutes if we want to win games, if we want to be tough to play against, if we want to give ourselves a chance game in and game out. Those points early in the season are very important, no matter who we're playing against," concluded Danault. "We're moving on for next game, but it's going to be important to play 60 minutes.

"I know it's a tough schedule the first month, but it's also an excellent test for us to figure out our identity as a team."

Video: Phillip Danault on the need to compete for 60 minutes

The Habs are scheduled for an 11:00 a.m. morning skate in Brossard on Thursday ahead of their 7:00 p.m. game against the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre. For tickets, click here.

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