- The Canadiens held a morning skate at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Saturday ahead of their tilt against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Defenseman Alexei Emelin skated alone prior to the start of practice under the supervision of athletic therapist Vincent Roof-Racine, taking part in a number of light on-ice workouts, while also testing his shot. The 28-year-old rearguard has been sidelined with an upper body injury since taking an awkward hit into the boards on February 18 in Ottawa. Head coach Michel Therrien confirmed however that Emelin will travel with the team to California on Sunday.
- Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau practiced alongside his teammates for the entirety of Saturday’s morning skate. The 31-year-old forward has been cleared to play since missing the last 18 games with a concussion suffered on January 15 in Ottawa, although he will not be in uniform against the visiting Maple Leafs.
- Sergei Gonchar returns to the lineup on Saturday after missing the last six games with an upper body injury suffered the last time Toronto was in town, taking a hit from behind from since-departed Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson on February 14.
“I’m playing tonight. I’ve been feeling better and better, our medical staff has done a great job of preparing me, and that’s why I’m ready to go,” confirmed the 40-year-old D-man who will be paired with recent call-up Greg Pateryn opposite the Leafs after previously mentoring another young teammate in Nathan Beaulieu on the blue line. “It’s strange [to be making my return against Toronto], but sometimes things work out that way.”
Gonchar’s return also comes with less than 25 games remaining on the 2014-15 regular season schedule, although the seasoned vet insists he’s comfortable with the timing.
“It can be harder to come back towards the end of the year, when teams are playing at a higher level and competing for a playoff spot, but I’ve been around for over 20 years so I know what to expect.”
- After registering a team-high four hits in his Canadiens debut during Thursday’s 5-2 win in Columbus, forward Devante Smith-Pelly now gets set to step onto the Bell Centre ice for the first time on Saturday.
“I’m excited. It’s a special building to play in and for my first game to be against the Leafs makes it even more so,” admitted the 22-year-old Toronto-native. “I’m happy to have my family coming in to town and I’m looking to have some fun tonight. I already played them twice this season [in Anaheim], but these are the games I watched growing up. It’s going to be special and I’m excited.”
Eager to get acquainted with his new teammates and coaches, the Habs newcomer has nevertheless taken part in just a pair of practices since being traded to Montreal in exchange for rookie forward Jiri Sekac on Tuesday.
“I went over video and spoke with the coaches to make sure that I know the system,” acknowledged Smith-Pelly, who was also in Brossard on Friday during the team’s day off. “That’s helped me get it a little bit more but at the end of the day it’s still hockey, so a big part of it will be reading and reacting.”
Tested on a pair of lines against the Blue Jackets most recently meanwhile, the six-foot, 220-pound winger continues to make strides while easing into his new role with the Habs.
“It was good. Prusty [Brandon Prust] and Rosey [Jacob De La Rose] like to get it deep and grind it out, which is the way I play as well,” added Smith-Pelly. “With Gally [Brendan Gallagher] and Pleky [Tomas Plekanec] it was a little different – two highly skilled guys – but that’s just going to take some getting used to. By playing together we’ll figure it out.”
- With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, Therrien suggested that the prospect of another trade has not brought any additional stress into the Canadiens dressing room heading into Monday.
“I don’t think guys are nervous. There’s chemistry in our room and the group is united. The guys enjoy coming to work every day and working hard,” underlined the Habs bench boss, who will close out the month of February atop the Atlantic Division, and possibly the Eastern Conference as well. “That’s true not only for practices, but also for games, which is even more important. Honestly, I don’t think anything has changed within our group. We’re having fun together.”