BROSSARD – In Monday’s notebook, the Habs return from vacation and look forward to a strong second half, while others get caught in the cold.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME: Following the team’s longest break of the season, the Canadiens were back at the Bell Sports Complex on Monday getting set to embark on a tough second half of the season.
With 45 games already in the books, head coach Michel Therrien was pleased with his team’s work so far, ranked third in the Atlantic Division with 61 points and three games in hand over the division-leading Tampa Bay Lighting (64 points).
“Our goal remains the same. We’re always battling for a playoff spot,” confirmed Therrien following the week’s first practice. “I like the way our team prepares for every game this season. Playing in the NHL is a demanding job, but our guys put the work in and we’re looking forward to locking down a playoff spot.”
The Canadiens will play 17 games between now and the NHL trade deadline, including 13 against Eastern opponents and seven against division rivals.
“It’s tight, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun come the end of the season,” affirmed Brendan Gallagher of this year’s race to the finish. “I think a lot of teams will be battling and it’s going to be exciting. It’s not going to be easy, and we’ve got a lot of games against those top teams – which will be huge to move up the standings – but right now we’ve just got to focus on the two points that are up for grabs on Tuesday.”
Teammate Dale Weise, who is currently enjoying a career year in Montreal, agrees that another strong half will be key heading into the playoffs.
“It’s crazy. With as good as a first half we’ve had, we’re still in third. Tampa is a great hockey team, Detroit is good – I think we’re going to have to match our first half in terms of wins if we’re going to have a chance to finish first,” added the 26-year-old, who has registered six goals and ten assists in 42 games so far this season. “Looking at our schedule, I think we get Tampa three times in March in the span of about two and a half weeks, so that could be a big stretch for us.”
BACK TO WORK: Heading into the All-Star break with a 29-13-3 record, sitting 13 wins over .500 while also ranked fourth league-wide with an average of just 2.33 goals allowed per game, the most recent five-day stretch away from the arena was a well-earned one by the Habs.
“It was good. I enjoyed my time off – I missed hockey, we all do – but we’ve got to take advantage of these breaks and now we’re all excited to be back for a big second half,” admitted defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, who was back at practice on Monday for the first time since preparing for the Predators last Tuesday. “We’re in a good spot so we’ve got to keep it going.”
Intending to finish the season on a high note, the 22-year-old rearguard spent his week away from the ice doing what he hopes he won’t have much time for come spring.
“I went golfing with my old man,” continued Beaulieu, who skated with Sergei Gonchar at practice. “I played some golf and relaxed – no complaints.”
Now in his third season with the Canadiens, Gallagher also took advantage of a little father-son bonding to get better acquainted with his adopted city.
“I stayed here. My dad and some friends came up to Montreal so I was actually a bit of a tourist, wandering around the city doing a lot of the things I never had the chance to do,” offered the Edmonton, AB native. “It was pretty cool, I got to try out some new restaurants and stuff like that, but most of all relax and get excited for the second half.”
While Gallagher’s credentials as a tour guide may still be up for debate, the 22-year-old forward admits Monday’s practice arrived just at the right time.
“It was nice to be back on the ice today. You start to lose the feel for the puck a little bit when you’re away from the rink for too long,” acknowledged Gallagher, who has already racked up 10-plus goals for a third consecutive season. “Practice was a little longer for us to get used to – we worked on special teams a little bit and I think that was good – but after today we should be all back to speed and ready for the stretch run.”
While his younger teammates may have spent their break away from the game, assistant captain Max Pacioretty meanwhile saw it as just another opportunity to get better.
“I tried to regroup after the first half and set some goals for myself heading into the second half, both as a teammate and a player. It was a good time to sit on the beach and think about what we’ve accomplished so far and what we can do better,” explained Pacioretty. “I did a lot of reflecting over the break and now it’s time to put it in action.”
Although the 26-year-old forward leads the team in scoring with 21 goals and 17 assists, he also remains his own harshest critic.
“I was pretty tough on myself,” conceded the 6-foot-2, 214-pound forward. “It was mostly about what I want to do better. Sometimes as the season goes on you get a little lazy with your routines and workouts, so it’s my goal to keep up on those moving forward.”
WINTER IS COMING: If Monday’s practice wasn’t a friendly reminder that vacation time is now over, then the weather in the Northeastern U.S. – not to mention a pair of Habs absentees – were there to let the Canadiens know that sandy beaches are once again a thing of the past.
“I don’t know the specifics of it. It’s not hitting us too bad up here but obviously we’re going to New York in a couple of days so we’ll see how it goes,” continued Pacioretty, a native of New Canaan, CT, located just over an hour outside of Manhattan.
“No one’s really talked about it too much – we just know that Carey [Price] and Jiri [Sekac] were stuck [coming back from the All-Star Game] this morning – but hopefully we’ll have them back for Tuesday’s game. It would be nice to have those two in the lineup tomorrow.”
While Price and Sekac did indeed make it back to Montreal following practice on Monday, Madison Square Garden may nevertheless count one less Habs fan on Thursday.
“My mom was supposed to fly back from Florida today to catch the game at MSG on Thursday, but now I’m assuming she won’t be able to make it.”
From the room
Doing their part
The Great Outdoors
Getting it done