The Canadiens held an optional practice in St. Louis ahead of Thursday’s game. Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller did not skate with the team.
Michel Therrien confirmed Ryan White will play against the Blues after missing Tuesday’s game in Montreal. He will replace Daniel Briere in the lineup, who will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Thursday night.
“I’m not the first veteran [to be a healthy scratch] and I won’t be the last. It happens,” offered Briere, who has five goals and 10 points in 26 games as a Hab since signing in Montreal this summer. “I can’t control what happens today; all I can control is my attitude going forward and how I work to get back in the lineup when I get the chance.”
After struggling to heat up at the start of the year, the 2013 free agent acquisition appeared to be hitting his stride in November, picking up six points in nine games last month. December hasn’t been quite as fruitful for the 16-year veteran, who has just one point in his last nine games.
“Honestly, it’s not a question of confidence. The confidence is there,” he stressed. “I feel good on the ice. At the beginning of the season, my confidence wasn’t there and things weren’t going great. I wasn’t feeling comfortable, but that’s normal when you come into a new team and a new system. I feel good on the ice now. It has nothing to do with confidence.”
Filling in for Briere on the team’s fourth line, White is a prime candidate to explode out of the gate in St. Louis after seeing action in just 28 of the team’s 36 games so far this season. The 25-year-old forward will be hoping to use Thursday’s game as a chance to earn a repeat performance against Nashville on Saturday night.
“You want to prove you belong in the lineup and when you’re not, you’re just working hard trying to stay in shape so when your name gets called, you’re ready to go,” described White, whose workload has averaged 9:45 a night when he’s been in the lineup. “You come to the rink prepared to play and today is no different; it’s just good to come in and see my name on the sheet and get a chance to play again.”
Carey Price will get his 29th start of the season on Thursday night, looking to build on his 1-2-0 career record against the Blues. Price is currently sixth among all NHL netminders with a .936 save percentage this year.
At the other end of the ice, the Canadiens will look to put a few pucks past Price’s former creasemate, Jaroslav Halak, who has a .959 save percentage, 0.97 goals-against average and 3-0-0 record against Montreal in his career but carries a 48th-ranked .908 save percentage into Thursday’s game. The Habs will also be hoping to put an end to a first period goal drought on Thursday night, having scored just one first period goal through nine games so far in December.
“We wish [Jaro] nothing but the best, but hopefully tonight we can jump on him early if we get the chance,” shared Max Paciroetty, who leads the Canadiens with 14 goals this year. “I don’t know if he has extra motivation against us, but we have motivation to prove to people we’re not the team we’ve shown in the past five games or so.”
Having had a chance to face the Slovak netminder in practice during his first two years with the Canadiens, Pacioretty has a fairly thorough scouting report on his former teammate – not that it will make much difference to the 25-year-old sniper’s game plan.
“I don’t think too much about goalies like that. I have ideas of where I like to shoot in different situations and I don’t really change it up for different goalies,” he mentioned. “I know he’s a great goalie and it’s going to take your best shot to beat him or a good screen to beat him so the plan is to just do the same thing, but bear down a little bit more.”
If the Canadiens do manage to get on the board early, it bodes well for the rest of the game. This season, the team is 16-2-1 when scoring first and holds a 10-2-1 record when leading at the first intermission. Game time is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. (EST) in St. Louis.
Game preview: MTL @ STL
Words from the room