SUNRISE – Injury updates galore, new faces in the lineup, and more in Friday’s notebook from South Florida.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: After missing the past 12 games with a lower body injury, Brendan Gallagher will make his return to action on Saturday night in Florida. Having previously missed six weeks earlier in the season with a pair of broken fingers, the gritty winger admits he’s had his fill of quality time in the team’s clinic in 2015-16. Despite having suited up for just 49 games this year, the 23-year-old has racked up an impressive 18 goals and 35 points – numbers he’ll have a chance to build on while skating on the team’s top line alongside Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty for the final four games of the campaign.
“In our first game together, I got hurt, so hopefully we’ll be able to stay together for a little while now. They’ve been playing really good hockey so I’ll come in and try not to mess that up,” joked Gallagher, whose linemates have amassed a combined 22 points since their right-winger was injured on March 5. “We’ll just go out there and have some fun and work as hard as we can. There are four games left so there’s still time to play some good hockey and come back and contribute.”
MEDIC ALERT: To say the Canadiens have been hit hard with injuries this season would be an understatement. With just shy of 350 man games lost to injury in 2015-16, the Habs are among the Top 5 teams in the league in that dubious category. The clinic clients continued to pile up on Thursday night when Nathan Beaulieu saw his season come to an early end after suffering a broken thumb against the Lightning. With Beaulieu on the shelf, the Habs have recalled Brett Lernout from the IceCaps, making him the 17th player called up from St. John’s this season. When one player goes down, it’s an opportunity for others to step up, and Max Pacioretty has been impressed with what he’s seen from some of the rookie blue-liners who have made the jump this year, particularly Joel Hanley, who now has five assists in six career NHL games.
“He’s got composure and that’s important as a D man,” praised the Habs’ captain. “Rather than just shovel it up the wall, he’s been making plays and that makes it a lot easier on the wingers. Sometimes when a D comes up, they’re scared to make plays and they end up rimming it or high flipping it. [Joel] has composure back there and that makes it a lot easier on the wingers.
“Obviously it was tough to see a guy go down last game, especially a guy who could benefit from playing big minutes and someone who was playing well and eating lots of minutes and gaining confidence,” he added on Beaulieu. “That’s the way the season has gone and we can’t get frustrated. When guys come back we have to make sure we build on our game. We see a bright future so we have to make sure we play the right way and have the right mindset to build a winning culture.”
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: Despite being in just his second full season in the NHL, Beaulieu, with his 151 career NHL games played, was one of the most experienced players on the team’s blue line against Tampa. While Andrei Markov (924) and Alexei Emelin (300) are seasoned vets on the back end, the other four rearguards who will be in the lineup against the Panthers count a combined 69 games of NHL experience under their collective belts, and three have fewer than 10 games played on their career stats lines. After shutting down the Lightning on Thursday night even with just five defensemen in the lineup for the final 40 minutes, Markov has been impressed with what he’s seen from his green blue line of late.
“I don’t think they have any pressure right now. For sure they’re nervous, but with our situation, for them it’s probably a good time to play,” he explained. “All they have to do is just play their game and stick to the system and have fun. They’ve been good.”
PRICE WATCH: Out of commission with a lower body injury since November 25, Carey Price has participated in full practices with his teammates for the past two days. The reigning Vezina, Jennings, Ted Lindsay, and Hart Trophy winner would love to be between the pipes in Sunrise, but while he continues inching closer to making his return, for now he’s just happy to be back on the ice with the boys.
“Having your teammates there is the biggest thing. There’s nothing like going out onto the ice and having all your buddies pushing you. It’s really hard to do that by yourself,” admitted the 28-year-old netminder, who was named to Canada’s World Cup roster in early March. “You can train all you want by yourself, but when you have those other guys there pushing you to be better and you have good coaching, it makes it that much easier.
“I’d like to play tomorrow, but I don’t have a set time to come back yet. Every day, I come in and see how I feel. I feel like it’s more of a day-to-day thing now,” explained Price, who mentioned that he has yet to regain his full range of motion and is still looking to perfect his timing on the ice. “I’ve been working this whole time to get back and that’s always been my goal. If that happens, it’s great, but if it doesn’t, I’ll be ready in September. I’m just going to keep pushing forward and keep working to get back in there.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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