BROSSARD - The Canadiens practiced Saturday morning at the Bell Sports Complex before taking on the Ottawa Senators later in the day.
A large contingent of loyal fans braved the cold to come see the Habs skate. It was the team’s first home practice since the Christmas vacation.
Absent were forwards Ryan White and George Parros. White suffered an upper-body injury in the team’s previous game against the Dallas Stars and is day-to-day, while Parros is still out with a concussion. After meeting with a concussion specialist in the U.S. in the past days, the prognosis seems to be positive in the case of the six-foot-five forward.
“[Parros] saw a specialist in Michigan and the outlook is good. Actually, he is still over there because he got caught in the big snow storm,” chuckled coach Michel Therrien. “There had been no setbacks in his case. He traveled with the team to Dallas and skated over there before meeting with the doctor in Michigan, it was all part of the plan.”
The rivalry between Ottawa and Montreal may not date back as far as the Habs’ classic feuds with Boston and Toronto, but the division revals’ recent confrontations did not lack in intensity. In addition, Saturday’s game will kick off a critical 17-games-in-35-days stretch before the Winter Olympics for the Canadiens.
“It’s a big month. We want to be looking up and chasing after first place in the division, instead of looking behind us and trying to keep a playoff spot,” remarked center Lars Eller. “Games like these are huge to keep teams like Ottawa behind us. I expect tonight to be a high-paced game. It doesn’t matter who’s hot or who’s struggling lately, it’s always close against Ottawa. With two good goalies, anything can happen.”
Eller also spoke about what it means to play at home for the first time in almost two week.
“It will feel good to be back in our own building, in front of our own fans. I’m looking forward to that,” the Dane added.
One player who will be in the line up is forward Daniel Briere, who was a healthy scratch on two occasions during the holiday road trip in southern United States. He centered a line composed of Travis Moen and Michael Bournival during the morning skate.
“For sure I am happy to be back in the line up. That’s what we train for. Whether you’re 18 or 36, it’s never easy to be scratched, and it’s always a great feeling to be on the ice,” offered Briere, who also gets a chance to play center after skating on the wing most of the season. “I always feel more at ease playing center, but that’s secondary. I’m just happy to be back in the line up.”
Following the morning skate, head coach Michel Therrien touched upon his priorities for the next 35 days.
“The schedule before the Olympics will be demanding for every team,” acknowledged the Habs’ bench boss. “The important thing will be to manage the energy levels of the players. We’ll have to make some adjustments when it comes to practice time, so that we can conserve more energy for games. Having talked to some other coaches across the league, it’s something that is a challenge for everyone. We showed some good consistency since the beginning of the season, and that will be a big factor in the stretch before the Olympics.”
Carey Price will make the start for the Habs, while defenseman Raphael Diaz will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season. The move allows Alexei Emelin to re-enter the line up.
“Diaz is sitting out simply because we have seven defensemen with NHL experience. A decision had to be made for tonight, and we decided that he would be missing the game,” explained Therrien.
Saturday morning, the team announced that center Tomas Plekanec will be awarded the Molson Cup for the month of December 2013 as the team's top performer.
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