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Divide and conquer

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – A jam-packed preseason schedule means practice days are few and far between this time of year, so the Canadiens hit the ice with a purpose at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday.

With 14 days to go before the start of the regular season, head coach Michel Therrien put a newly formed group of 27 players through their paces on the South Shore. Labelled “Group A”, it consisted of Habs regulars, standout defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi, and prospects Nikita Scherbak, Jacob De La Rose and Jiri Sekac. For their part, players comprising “Group B” scrimmaged on the practice facility’s secondary ice rink.

“Days like today are rare. There aren’t many opportunities to stage practices, and we only have six preseason games to go before the season-opener. There are a lot of things to take into consideration. We’ve made decisions and made adjustments, too. But this has all been planned for a long time,” offered Therrien, who confirmed that P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin, Carey Price and Peter Budaj will be among the veterans who will suit up against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night at the Bell Centre. “These days are crucial. The next time we’ll have the chance to hold a formal practice is on Saturday. There aren’t many days to practice as a team. My goal is to be ready for October 8.”

With that goal in mind, the Canadiens’ bench boss spent the better part of the practice session teaching his troops the ins and outs of the systems he’d like to implement going forward.

“I think it’s for the best to learn the system early. There are quite a few things that we need to work on. It takes some time. There are some adjustments that we’re doing. Over time, we’ll have more practices where we have a lot of teaching and a lot of system stuff that we’ll need to get used to,” confided Tomas Plekanec, who is set to embark on his 10th season in a Habs uniform. “It’s a bit of a learning process, too. There are some little tweaks here and there with things we want to be a little bit better at. We want to be a little bit tougher to play against, and we want to create more turnovers as quickly as possible. That adjustment can help the team.”

While Therrien focused his efforts on working with Group A on Wednesday, he is adamant that players in Group B will still be given plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff for the Habs’ brass as training camp rolls on.

RAW: Michel Therrien

“Those guys will definitely have the chance to play exhibition games. They’ll have the chance to show what they can do, and decisions will be made after that. We have to focus on our team. That doesn’t mean that the players in Group B won’t have the chance to mix things up a little bit,” offered Therrien, who likened the situation Group B players find themselves in to that of Michael Bournival around the same time last season.

“If we’d gone about things that same way last year, would you have thought that Bournival would have been a member of Group A? Not a chance. His play is what ensured that he’d start the season in Montreal,” continued Therrien. “Things can change quickly.”

Nevertheless, Therrien is trying to establish a measure of stability and consistency in his lineup as the preseason kicks into high gear, particularly on the back end.

“We’ll give Emelin and Subban time to work together on Thursday night against Colorado. They’re a duo that can play physical hockey. They’ve got one offensive guy, and one who’s a little bit more defensive. Emelin will have a chance to play on his strong side, which we believe will be a big advantage for him,” offered Therrien, who has also paired Andrei Markov and Tom Gilbert together since the start of training camp.

“We’re still trying to establish a measure of equality with our defensive duos. Defensemen need a little bit more time to be comfortable with a new partner,” concluded Therrien. “We’ve got a vision of what we believe is going to work, but we’re going to give them the time to develop before making changes.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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