BROSSARD – Preseason games might not count in the NHL standings come October, but that doesn’t mean that the Canadiens are taking Sunday night’s tilt against the Sabres lightly.
With players looking to cement their standing with their respective clubs in the early stages of training camp by showcasing physicality and toughness, Lars Eller isn't prepared to overlook the Habs' opponents, no matter the time of year.
“[There’s] a big difference [between] playing an internal scrimmage [and] a real game. No matter how you put it, it does make a difference,” affirmed Eller, citing the importance of his teammates maintaining their focus against a Sabres squad that boasts tough guys Steve Ott and John Scott, among others. “The only danger is if you’re going to go out there and let up and take it easy and think it’s going to be a piece of cake. Then, you might not be aware [of who’s around you] and you can get caught and the chance of injury would [go up]. But, if you’re aware and you’re on, it’s no different.”
That’s exactly the mentality that 6-foot-5, 237-pound Michael McCarron is taking into his first taste of preseason action in the NHL. One of 11 prospects donning the bleu-blanc-rouge against the Sabres at the Bell Centre, the Grosse Pointe, MI native is looking to dish out a few memorable hits while making Buffalo goaltenders somewhat uneasy at every opportunity.
“This is what you live for. Competitions. Tonight’s going to be a competition and it’s going to test my abilities out there at the NHL [level]. I’m pretty excited about it,” confirmed the imposing right winger, who admitted that partaking in Saturday’s intra-squad game helped him shake off the jitters ahead of the first of the Canadiens’ seven preseason games. “I think I have to go to the net more. I haven’t been at the net too much, and tonight, facing another team, I think it’s going to push me over that edge and maybe go even harder. [I want to] go to the net and stop in front and [maybe even] bang home some goals.”
Confidence and poise aside, the former USNTDP standout and 25th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft knows that the key to his success remains in keeping his composure. Given all he’s gone through at training camp thus far, however, McCarron believes that preseason game experience will be another step in the right direction.
“I feel like I definitely belong [at camp], but there’s still obviously a ton to learn. I’m only 18 years old, so I still have to learn all of the little things. I’m learning here and there. We’ll see what happens [against the Sabres],” noted McCarron, who skated alongside Martin St-Pierre and Michael Bournival at morning practice. “Tonight, it’s the real thing and I’m playing against a real opponent.”
Like McCarron, Brendan Gallagher is chomping at the bit to engage with players other than his teammates come the opening draw at 7:30 p.m. The 21-year-old NHL sophomore will line up alongside Eller and Alex Galchenyuk against Buffalo on a trio boasting speed, skill and finesse.
“It’s obviously nice that we’ve been spending time together working through a few things and just building that chemistry, building that trust,” mentioned Gallagher, who amassed 15 goals and 28 points last season. “Hopefully, going into tonight, we can build on what we’ve learned and come out ready.
“We understand what it takes to be successful and what you can do to make mistakes on the ice,” added last year's Calder Trophy runner-up. “To have that experience and to be able to talk about it together is something that’s helping us, no question.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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