SOLDIERING ON: On Tuesday, the Canadiens reacted to the announcement that defenseman Tom Gilbert would be sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury that required surgery. News that the 33-year-old Bloomington, MN native was done for the year came following Monday night’s 2-1 shootout loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators.
|Captain Max Pacioretty says Tom Gilbert's willingness to play through pain earned him plenty of respect in the dressing room. |
“He’s a warrior, obviously. He had that injury and he came back. I thought he was playing awesome before he went down. It’s just another example of people not knowing what goes on behind closed doors, where he’s battling through that,” said captain Max Pacioretty, referencing the fact that Gilbert elected to play through pain in recent weeks after returning to active duty in late January. “As a team guy, it really meant a lot to us to see him battle like that and play that well through an injury.”
Head coach Michel Therrien felt bad for Gilbert, whom he’d charged with logging more and more minutes in the absence of other regulars.
“It’s the same injury that came back again. He did his rehab [from late December to late January] and he was able to keep on going. He came back, felt good during the game last time out against Philadelphia, but then he hurt it again,” said Therrien. “That’s when the medical team – along with Tom – decided the best thing to do was have surgery.”
One of several Canadiens defensemen who’ve battled the injury bug this season, the CH also heads into a tilt against the Washington Capitals without Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu in tow as both are battling lower-body injuries. There’s no time to dwell on those injuries, though. Twenty-two games remain, and time really is of the essence if the Canadiens hope to make up the ground necessary to secure a playoff spot.
“It’s not the way you draw up a season. It’s a lot of adversity that we’re facing. A lot of key guys have gotten injured,” admitted Pacioretty. “We have to have that next-man-up mentality. It’s been unfortunate in the sense that injuries have really played a role in this season. But, we still have a lot of games left. We can’t worry about that. We have to worry about ourselves.”
BATTLING THE BEST: When the Canadiens hit the ice at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night, they’ll be going up against a Washington Capitals team that boasts 44 wins through 58 games on the year. They’re the fastest team in NHL history to hit the 44-win mark. Needless to say, Bruce Boudreau’s contingent will present quite a challenge in the District of Columbia.
“They’re obviously tough to play against. Their goalie [Braden Holtby] has been hot all year. It’s a big test for us. We’ve got to go in there with the mindset that it’s going to take a full 60 minutes, if not more, to beat a team like that,” said Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 21 goals this season. “We have to have that mindset that we’re willing to do whatever it takes every shift.”
That’s for sure. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Justin Williams up front, the Capitals have put up 194 goals in 2015-16, which has them tied with the Dallas Stars atop the league in that department. They’ve also given up the fewest goals against, which is another reason why they’re sitting atop the NHL standings, 11 points clear of the Western Conference powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks.
“Even with a completely healthy squad, you’re playing the Washington Capitals. They’re the top team, not just in our conference, but in the entire league,” said Therrien. “We’re a young group. It’s a challenge that we’re going to all have to meet together. It’s also an opportunity to evaluate some of our younger guys.”
BIG BREAK: Given the injury woes on the blue line, it looks like Victor Bartley could make his Canadiens debut on Wednesday night in Washington. The 28-year-old rearguard, who was recalled from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps on Monday, arrived in Quebec in the wee hours of Tuesday morning before hitting the ice with the rest of Michel Therrien’s troops at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
“I got in around 3 o’clock this morning, but overall I’m feeling really good. It’s been a long month, but I’m excited to be here,” said Bartley, who has two goals and four points in 10 games since joining the IceCaps after being acquired by the Canadiens in the Jarred Tinordi trade back in mid-January. “I want to bring energy and physical play [to Montreal]. That’s my game. I’m a solid two-way defenseman.”
With 112 NHL games under his belt dating back to his Nashville Predators debut in 2012-13, Bartley brings experience along with him to the Canadiens’ back end. The chance to don the bleu-blanc-rouge on Wednesday night represents an opportunity for the Ottawa native to show his new employer exactly what he’s capable of.
“I was in Nashville the last three years where I was kind of stuck as the sixth or seventh defenseman, especially with the depth they had. It was tough to crack the lineup,” said Bartley, who put up one goal and 23 points during his time in the Music City, while amassing 165 blocked shots and 195 hits along the way. “Now that I have the opportunity to be here, in such a great organization, I’m thrilled. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I’m going to go [to work] with both feet in.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words From The Room - Feb. 23
To the point
Come on down, folks
The Last Word: Oscar De La Hoya