BROSSARD – With three games in five days this week, head coach Michel Therrien can look forward to having two key players back in the lineup - Daniel Briere and Alexei Emelin.
“Over the past five days, I’ve been pushing harder and harder each day. I feel ready to come back, though I’ll still have to meet with the doctors, the team’s medical staff and the coaches. There’s no doubt I’m feeling better and ready to play. If it’s not tomorrow, then I’ll be back this weekend,” announced Briere after Monday morning’s practice.
Short of confirming the right-hander’s presence on Tuesday night against the Lightning, the Habs bench boss is adamant that Briere should be good to go shortly.
“We hope to see Briere back tomorrow. We’ll see how he is feeling after the morning skate, then we’ll make a decision,” explained Therrien, who slotted Briere in between Michael Bournival and Rene Bouque at practice.
“He has experience playing both center and on the wing, so we won’t hesitate to use him at either position," added Therrien. "If he's in the lineup on Tuesday night, it will be at center."
The move should please Briere, who scored most of his 287 career goals as a centerman.
“I played center my entire career, except last season when I showed up to camp with a broken wrist and couldn’t take faceoffs. For sure I’m more comfortable at center, but at the same time, there are many good centermen here in Montreal,” noted the two-time All-Star.
Ememlin, meanwhile, skipped practice in order to fly to New York City to meet with the surgeon who successfully operated on his injured knee last season.
According to Therrien, the gritty rearguard got some good news.
“He got the green light, so we are looking forward to having him back on Friday or on Saturday,” revealed Therrien, who partnered Emelin with both Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray in previous practice sessions.
One player who recently returned to action is left winger Max Pacioretty. Playing alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, Montreal’s leading point-getter over the last two seasons has been increasingly effective at shutting down the opposition's top forwards. Pacioretty, however, is looking to put up points and chip in on offense.
“It would be nice to contribute offensively, but anytime you can contribute to help the team win, it’s a good feeling,” offered the New Canaan, CT native, who went head-to-head against dynamic scorer John Tavares on Sunday night and held the Islanders' top center scoreless at even strength. “We were able to shut down Tavares last night playing five-on-five. Against these types of players, it’s easy to fall back on our heels and only think about defending, but you have to remember that these guys take chances, and that gives us an opportunity to take advantage off the transition.”
Pacioretty was also a force on the penalty kill, a responsibility that was only recently added to his portfolio.
“Since I’ve been back, some of the best chances I’ve had were on the penalty kill. It’s something we’ve been preparing for, and I was able to get opportunities at the right time,” acknowledged the 24-year-old.
With goal-scorer extraordinaire Steven Stamkos and ageless wonder Martin St-Louis in town for the Canadiens’ next game on Tuesday night, Pacioretty and company will have to be solid yet again at both ends of the rink. Carey Price will make his 16th start, hoping to give the home team a chance to get back on a winning streak.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.