TORONTO - The Canadiens held an optional morning skate at the Air Canada Centre, hours before taking on the Maple Leafs in an anticipated Hockey Day in Canada tilt.
Forwards present were Brandon Prust, George Parros, Brendan Gallagher, Rene Bourque, Michael Bournival, Lars Eller, Joonas Nattinen, David Desharnais, Daniel Briere and Travis Moen. Defenseman included P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Francis Bouillon and Nathan Beaulieu. Peter Budaj was the lone goalie at practice.
After practice, Brendan Gallagher talked about what it means to have a chance to take part in such a marquee matchup.
“Every game in the Montreal-Toronto level has a great compete level. It’s fun to come here, and the games are always exciting. It’s still pretty early to look at the standings, but it’s important to play your best game against [a division rival],” Gallagher stated.
Teammate Brandon Prust, who like Gallagher is no stranger to physical play, is looking forward to reigniting an age-old rivalry in front of a nation-wide audience.
“Leafs-Habs games are always exciting. They have won three in a row, and we’re coming off a win but by no means our best win ever, so we’re looking to bounce back and have a good game, while they want to keep the ball rolling,” Prust offered, referencing the Habs’ overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. “We are focusing on playing better with the lead. Playing with more intensity and keeping up the forecheck even if we’re ahead. Definitely something to work on.”
Forward Lars Eller, who had been battling flu symptoms for the past days, looked to be health and ready to take part in Saturday night’s game. After centering the third line for most of the season, he’ll skate on the left wing alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
“It doesn’t matter whether I play center or on the wing, I just try my best to help Plekanec and Gionta. I’ve played with Plekanec in the past, not in long stretches, but it’s not something totally foreign to me,” revealed Eller. “As a winger, there’s more forechecking involved. You get to use your size along the boards to set up your centerman and get pucks to the net.”
“Everytime these two teams play, it’s an occasion. The fact that it’s on a Saturday night only makes it more special. I anticipate a hotly contested game,” commented coach Michel Therrien, who also annonced that Nathan Beaulieu will partner with Francis Bouillon on a defense pairing while rookie Joonas Nattinen draws into his first NHL game in lieu of Rene Bourque.