BROSSARD - It may be a new year, but the Montreal Canadiens’ bad luck with injuries has seemingly carried over from 2015.
After kicking off 2016 with a memorable win against the rival Boston Bruins in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, the Canadiens returned to practice in Brossard with the notable absence of a familiar face. Absent from Sunday morning’s practice was veteran forward Dale Weise, who suffered a lower-body injury and was forced to leave the game in the second period against the Bruins on Friday afternoon.
The injury comes on the heels of Brendan Gallagher’s return to the lineup after missing over a month of action with two fractured fingers on his left hand. Thus the Habs’ season-long battle with injuries continued on January 1st as Gallagher’s return to the lineup was muddied by the loss of the Habs’ 2014-15 Jacques Beauchamp-Molson ‘unsung hero’ Trophy winner.
“I think everybody realizes how important Weise has been for us ever since he was acquired. Every night he gives us energy, plays an important role and he’s one of those guys that can spark us when we aren’t playing well,” stressed Gallagher, who recently endured a similar rehab process after blocking a booming shot from Johnny Boychuk against the Islanders on November 22, 2015. “I just went through a similar thing so I know the trainers will get him back as quickly as possible when he is 100%, but for the time being it is a great chance for other guys to step up and take on another role. I am confident we have the guys here to do it.”
With Gallagher’s return to the lineup - just as balance had finally been restored to Michel Therrien’s lineup - the coach found himself down another fallen soldier. Weise, who is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks, had previously suited up for all 40 games this season collecting 11 goals and nine assists, good for second on the team in goals scored.
“It’s hard. We were working well so far. He played great for us at the Winter Classic. It’s a big loss for us, but we have to forget about it and focus on the upcoming games,” commented Tomas Fleischmann, who was reunited with Weise and David Desharnais on a line that has been very effective for coach Therrien so far this season. “He’s a big guy. He creates room in the corners and in front of the net for me and Davy. We’re going to miss that from him.”
As a team that prides itself on relying on no excuses, the coach’s message to his troops will have to remain the same as it was when Gallagher was injured; soldier on.
“I think we have to. As professionals we have both highs and lows. We have to move on to the next game,” echoed Gallagher, who defied the odds by returning ahead of schedule to be make it back to the lineup in time to play in the Winter Classic. “Certainly the whole Winter Classic experience is something we will take with us as long as we are still playing. It was cool to be a part of especially since we came away with the win. Now the important thing is to move on.”
As Gallagher noted, the injury to Weise has opened the door for others to take advantage of the opportunity. Sven Andrighetto, who was called up in response to the Weise injury, rotated with Devante Smith-Pelly at practice on a line completed by David Desharnais and Tomas Fleischmann.
“It’s tough, you know. You get one guy back and then another one goes down. But it’s just hockey. The season is long. We have some pretty good players waiting to get into the lineup, so I think we are going to be fine,” assured Fleischmann, who has had to adjust to his fair share of line-mates during this injury riddled season. “The injury is on the right wing again, but Ghetto was playing pretty well on the right side before and Smith-Pelly is waiting for his chance to get back into the lineup. So it’s not a big deal.”
On a positive note, when healthy Gallagher’s impact on the Canadiens is undeniable, as evidenced by the Habs’ 17-4-2 record with the diminutive giant in the lineup.
“It just felt good to be a part of the team again. To get on the ice and battle with the guys, that’s the part you miss,” concluded Gallagher, who lit the lamp in the second period of the Winter Classic before assisting on Max Pacioretty’s insurance marker in the third period. “When you are injured you are away from everyone for so long you kind of feel like you’re not part of the team really, because you can’t help contribute.”
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com