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Injury and opportunity

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – The Habs’ team concept will be put to the test again on Tuesday night as they’ll work to fill a big void left on the blue line.

Injuries might be an inevitable part of any hockey season, but that doesn’t make the repercussions any easier to swallow when grappling with the loss of a key player. The Canadiens may have earned a big win over Boston on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, but they also suffered a tough loss at the same time when defenseman Alexei Emelin was helped off the ice after attempting a check on the Bruins’ Milan Lucic.

The news didn’t get any better at the Habs’ Monday morning skate when it was confirmed that Emelin had torn a ligament in his left knee during the collision and would be shelved for the remainder of the season. That said, as the team has continued to prove all season long, every injury creates an opportunity for someone else to step up and that’s just what they’ll aim to do again when the puck drops against the red-hot Capitals on Tuesday night.

Rene Bourque

“Anytime you lose a player for the season it’s bad news, and this was a guy that was playing so well for us this year too. It sucks to see him have to go through that – I know what that’s like – but we’re going to have to find a way to fill that gap,” said Josh Gorges, addressing the news of Emelin’s injury following the Habs’ Monday morning practice. “The style he plays and what he brings to this team is hard to replace. It’s up to us to be resilient, find ways and find answers. You can’t stress too much about what isn’t there – you have to find a way to move on, as hard as that may be.”

Part of that process will involve the Habs relying on newcomer Davis Drewiske and rookie Nathan Beaulieu to join the rest of the team in making up for Emelin’s absence on the blue-line. While that might involve more minutes and tougher shifts for some, one thing it doesn’t involve, according to Gorges, is a change from what’s worked for the Habs’ defensive corps all season long.

“I don’t think the answer is for us to go out there and try to do anything differently. Emelin brought something that a lot of other guys don’t have, especially with the ferocity he plays with,” added Gorges, of the team-leading 110 hits thrown by the Russian rearguard in 38 games this season. “You can’t ask guys to change their game and try to bring what he brought. We need to go out there and continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability – whether that means having to play more minutes or eat up more time on the PK, we need to still be able to get the job done.”

Head coach Michel Therrien was clearly on the same wavelength as his assistant captain following practice, underlining the fact that despite the loss, continuing to do what’s already brought them success – as individuals and as a team – needs to be the Canadiens’ primary focus moving forward.

“This is obviously a big loss for us in the same way as when we lost Diaz and Bourque. They were both important parts of our team, but we found ways to fill those gaps because the players really bought into our system of play and the team concept,” shared Therrien, before echoing Gorges sentiments. “Everyone still has to play their own game. All season long, we’ve managed to deal with losing key elements of our team while still being able to come through and win games.”

The one silver-lining the Habs’ bench boss was able to offer up was that after missing 21 games with a concussion, forward Rene Bourque is expected to make his return to the lineup to face the Caps, while defenseman Raphael Diaz continues to make strides in recovering from a concussion of his own.

“Right now, I don’t have a real reason to take anyone out of the top three lines to insert Bourque. Everyone’s been doing excellent work. He’s going to have to be patient, work on his timing and work on getting back into game-shape,” shared Therrien, who will look to begin easing Bourque back into the lineup on Tuesday night. “He’s an important player for this organization and we’re obviously extremely happy he’s nearing his return. We hope to be able to give him the green light for Tuesday’s game.”

Justin Fragapane is a writer for

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