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Next man up

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – The number of man games lost to injury continues to grow by the day in Montreal, and the team’s young stars are looking to make the most of the opportunity. 


One day after the Canadiens took what may have been the largest team photo in franchise history, with 31 players suiting up on picture day, the Habs iced a youth-laden lineup against the Panthers punctuated by six rookies and nine players counting 50 or fewer games of NHL experience.  With the team’s injured reserve crew currently overcrowding the Canadiens’ clinic, some of the organization’s young guns have been given an opportunity to show what they can do on the big stage.

Continuing his torrid scoring pace with another goal on Tuesday night, 22-year-old center Alex Galchenyuk now needs just four more to crack the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Fellow 22-year-old forward, Sven Andrighetto, has slipped in seamlessly alongside Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty on the team’s top line, while Mark Barberio looks increasingly comfortable next to Andrei Markov on the Canadiens’ first power play unit. Rookie bruiser Michael McCarron has been throwing his weight around all over the ice, while Darren Dietz led the Habs with seven hits against the Panthers.

“It is an audition,” admitted Lucas Lessio, who is one of 40 players to have played at least one game for the Canadiens in 2015-16. “When you’re playing your best, you’re giving your team an opportunity to win at the same time. I just want to pitch in any way I can. I’m getting some chances and it would be nice to see that turn into production soon, but I just have to keep moving my feet. Tomorrow’s another one, so I have to just put the same effort in there.”

Having landed in St. John’s via a trade with the Coyotes in December, Lessio was called up to the big club at the end of January and has been using his time in the spotlight as a chance to potentially earn a starring role in the long-term. After starting his Canadiens career in the single digits in ice time, Lessio played a season-high 13:10 against Florida on Tuesday night.

“I think as a player, you work your whole life, you work during the summer, you work during the year for these opportunities. You can’t be scared of them; you have to take the bull by the horns,” said the 23-year-old winger, who had four hits and three shots in the 4-1 loss to the Panthers. “I don’t think any young guy wants to go to the NHL to be a full-time fourth-liner. That’s something that over time you might settle into, but I’m still pretty young in the league, I only have 35 or 36 games, so every night I’m just trying to work my way up the lineup and hopefully stay in the lineup.”

Of the 20 players who were in uniform to take on the Leafs on opening night on October 7, only seven were on the ice on Tuesday to face the Panthers. That number includes rookie netminder Mike Condon, who was backing up Carey Price when the season kicked off in Toronto. In addition to Price, who has been out of commission since November 26, the team is also currently without the services of regulars like P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry, Tom Gilbert, Lars Eller, Daniel Carr, Brian Flynn, David Desharnais, and Nathan Beaulieu.

Adopting a “next man up” attitude since the season began, the Habs continue to soldier on despite the revolving door to the team’s clinic.

“We can’t use injuries as an excuse. It’s the reality of this league,” stressed Barberio, who, notched his 10th point of the season with an assist on Galchenyuk’s second-period goal. “Every team has injuries. We’re obviously in a rough spell but it can’t be an excuse for us. Whatever 20 guys we put out on our lineup, we need to get the job done.”

The audition continues on Wednesday in Buffalo when the Canadiens face the Sabres for the second time in two weeks.

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.

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