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On the bright side

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL - The Minnesota Wild were too much for a depleted Habs lineup to handle on Saturday night.

With 11 regulars off the roster due to either illness or injury, the Canadiens faced a tall task in the Wild, who counted 2,062 additional games of NHL experience in their starting lineup alone.

“Obviously we’re missing a lot of guys, but we’re not using that as an excuse. I don’t think we played our best tonight. They brought it to us and played with more desperation,” acknowledged Mark Barberio, who was named the night’s Third Star in the 4-1 defeat.

Still, the number is hard to ignore.

“I looked around the room this morning in Brossard to do a quick count, and I think there are 10 guys here right now who have suited up for at least one game with the IceCaps this season,” continued the Montreal native. “But it’s great for the young guys to come up and get experience and find out they can play at this level.”

Barberio himself is proof of that philosophy. Since being called up from from St. John’s on December 27, the 25-year-old has steadily come into his own with the Habs.

“When I signed here my goal was to battle for a spot at training camp, but obviously all the injuries have given me the opportunity to play more minutes. When you get an opportunity you just have to try your best to seize it,” added Barberio, who has now racked up four points in his last four games, including the Habs’ lone goal against the Wild. “I feel good about my game, but I’m not trying to change the type of player I am. I was the same type of player in St. John’s -- a puck mover who plays hard defensively. I’m not trying to do too much out there, and as of right now I’m feeling good about it.”

While the team obviously didn’t get the result it was looking for on Saturday night -- dropping a regulation decision at home for the first time since February 3 -- the effort put forth by the young guns did manage to catch the eye of their head coach.

“The line changes tonight brought us some energy, which is what I was looking for. I put [Michael] McCarron on a line with [Lucas] Lessio, who I like a lot -- he’s very dynamic -- and Charles Hudon. They were energetic, and created some scoring chances. Tomas Plekanec’s line did too. The goal was to re-energize our team on the ice, and we were successful in that regard.”

With at least one player with IceCaps experience this season on each of the Habs’ top three lines, the newcomers also had the chance to impress their veteran peers from up close.

“After the start we had, suffering all those injuries to our top guys wasn’t easy, but it happens. It happens to every other team in different years, and it’s a great opportunity for the young guys to step in,” underlined Plekanec, who spent part of the evening playing on a line with Hudon and Paul Byron. “They played really well. A lot of them skated really well. When I was younger I didn’t get as many opportunities like this that they’re getting now.”

Now a 12-year NHL veteran however, the Canadiens’ 71st overall pick from the 2001 NHL Entry Draft did have some words of wisdom -- and encouragement -- for the next generation of Habs.

“They need to focus on their games, and focus on whatever their jobs are,” concluded Plekanec. “They’re young and learning -- like we’ve all been -- but they’re doing a good job.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for

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Postgame comments: Mar. 12
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