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Game Day - Blues - November 20

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

- The Canadiens held an optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex on Thursday morning.

Drafted by the Blues in 2007, Lars Eller will face his former team for the fifth time on Thursday.

- Defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban were the only Habs players absent from practice ahead of Thursday’s test against the visiting St. Louis Blues.

- Any changes to the Canadiens roster will be game-time decisions, including the possible return of Mike Weaver, who hinted he may be back in time to face the Blues.

“It’s going day by day and I’ll be a game time decision tonight,” acknowledged Weaver, who missed Tuesday’s game against the Penguins with an upper body injury. “I’m getting close and obviously no one wants to be sitting out and watching. I’m trying to get back as soon as possible and we’ll see what happens tonight.”

Fortunately the Habs are in good hands according to the veteran blue liner, should his return to action be delayed.

“It’s great to have depth, especially with D-men. There’s a lot of bumping and grinding in the corners and blocking shots and stuff like that so obviously from time to time guys will get beat up and bruised. Having a guy who can go in there and run with seven D-men is nice. Everybody is ready to go.”

- Both the Habs and the Blues are coming off shutout losses heading into Thursday’s tilt, as the Canadiens saw a six-game winning streak snapped by the Penguins 4-0 on Tuesday while St. Louis was blanked 2-0 by Boston after rattling off a trio of consecutive wins against the Sabres, Predators and Capitals.

Nevertheless, the Habs already have their sights set on stringing together a couple more, starting on Thursday.

“[The key tonight] first of all, is putting Tuesday’s game behind us and moving on right away. We’ve got another great matchup ahead of us. This is a good team and a great test for us. I think we’ve just got to be better with the puck. We’ve got to get the puck moving north and get behind their D. I think that’s when we play our best; when we keep it as simple as possible and gets puck deep,” offered defenseman Tom Gilbert. “We put together a good streak of games but it always hurts after a loss, so we’ve got to start a new streak tonight.”

- Ranked first in the league for giveaways, the Blues will be a tough test for the Habs, who are ranked 28th after 20 games this season.

“It’s going to be a patient game. They’ll be waiting for turnovers so we’ll have to be good in the neutral zone and at getting pucks deep,” continued Gilbert, who is a +6 so far this year. “Turnovers will be huge tonight because they can capitalize on everything. Turnovers in this league usually end up in the back of the net so we’ve got to be better at that.”

Speaking firsthand from experience, former Blues draft pick Lars Eller agrees staying composed will be key against St. Louis.

“Obviously we’ve got to take their time and space away from them. The best way to play them is by keeping the puck amongst ourselves as much as we can and keeping it away from them as much as possible,” explained the 25-year-old center, who faces his former team for the fifth time on Thursday. “We’ve got to stay tight on them while also staying out of the box ourselves.”

- Receiving a Blues team which has allowed an average of just 1.89 goals against per game, the Canadiens will look to rediscover the scoring touch from the team’s most recent six-game winning streak, during which the Habs outscored their opponents 23-7.

“Playing for Hitchcock is definitely a system where you’re not going to allow too many chances against,” affirmed Max Pacioretty, whose five-game point streak was snapped against the Penguins. “They obviously have talent up front as well so if we let them get off to a good start it’s going to be tough to dig ourselves out of that hole.”

Making the most of every inch the Blues give up will be tantamount then for the Canadiens against a team which has allowed just 35 goals this season, tied for first in that category with Pittsburgh.

“I think over the last couple of years they’ve been a very tight defensive team,” noted Eller. “They’ve got a good system, they skate a lot, and they’re strong. There are a lot of good things you can say about them so we better capitalize on the opportunities we get tonight. They play simple and they’re just a really good overall team. They’re definitely a team we want to measure ourselves with.”

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