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Mete: Return on the horizon

It's looking like the Canadiens will have defenseman Victor Mete back in the lineup shortly

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

EDMONTON - After watching the last nine games from the sidelines with an ankle injury, defenseman Victor Mete's return is imminent.

"It's very close. I've been doing a lot of hitting the past couple of days after practice and everything," said Mete, following Friday afternoon's practice at Downtown Community Arena. "Just from that, we can tell it's pretty close."

How close, though? Head coach Claude Julien isn't ruling Mete out for Saturday's game against the Oilers, but Monday's contest versus the Jets is probably a safer bet.

It all depends on further discussions with club medical staff, so it's really just a case of wait and see.

The good news is that Mete feels prepared to jump right back into the fray and pick up where he left off before going down on November 30 against Philadelphia.

"It's been getting better every day a lot, so I've been happy with that," said Mete, who has three goals and eight points in 26 games with Montreal this season. "I'm just going to go back in the same way before I came out. I've been practicing with these guys almost game speed, and the difference on the ice won't be too bad from practice."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Le deuxi��me aura pris moins de temps.The second one didn't take quite as long as the first.#GoHabsGo

While it's especially tough to remain in good spirits during time like these, rehabbing alongside his good buddy Jesperi Kotkaniemi made things a little bit easier.

You'll recall that Kotkaniemi suffered a concussion on December 5 against Colorado, so the pair have basically spent the last two weeks together trying to overcome their respective hardships.

"It's nice for me [to have him there], but I'd rather see him healthy and playing," mentioned Mete, before expanding upon the way in which they've been helping one another out. "We're pretty close, so we can talk to each other personally. We've just been trying to keep our hopes up, watching the boys every game and motivating them. They're kind of telling us, 'Hopefully, you're back soon,' so it's nice to see the boys wanting us back."

Video: Kotkaniemi and Mete share a tour of their hotel room

Even though Mete didn't expect to play for the bulk of the Western Canada trek, he didn't want to stay behind in Montreal.

The three-year NHL veteran was committed to making the trip and be around his teammates as much as possible.

Being far away at a critical point in the season would've been far too hard to swallow.

"That was the goal for me, to be able to come on this trip to kind of start practicing with the boys and everything," insisted Mete. "I didn't want to stay home and practice there alone. It would've been tough. I'm very happy I came on the trip."

Good work, Lehky!

Following Friday's on-ice session, Julien was asked to comment on the play of Artturi Lehkonen this season.

Even though goals have proven hard to come by for the Finnish left-winger, his bench boss remains an avid fan for a whole host of reasons.

"He's a hard worker. He competes every game. Everybody's kind of hoping that he can score a few more goals because he creates chances and he does get some of those opportunities - and he's been known to score a bit more before he came to Montreal. I think he's established himself as a pretty solid two-way player. He still creates a lot offensively, and the example is Thursday's goal that Armia scored [against Calgary]," praised Julien, referencing Lehkonen's feed to his countryman for the game-tying marker in the second period. "He's also a good penalty killer and a good reliable guy late in games when you're trying to protect leads. He's a smart player and does the right things. Offensively, he's been a big part of that line with his forecheck, getting on the puck quick, and making plays hasn't gone unnoticed."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Joel Armia est��tellement en feu, ces temps-ci. 🔥Joel Armia, so hot right now.#GoHabsGo

Julien is hopeful Lehkonen will light the lamp on a more frequent basis, of course. If anything, he believes it'll bring the former second-round selection some relief - and maybe an extra smile or two from time to time.

"He gets frustrated because he hasn't scored as much as he'd like to, but every game he has opportunities and he works to get them," explained Julien. "If he could score a little more, he'd probably be a little bit happier."

While Lehkonen has six goals and 15 points in 35 games during the 2019-20 campaign, he is still seeking his first goal in December.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Tic...Tac...Goal! 🚨#GoHabsGo

Talking Oilers

If the Canadiens are going to win their third game in a row on Saturday, keeping snipers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in check is a top priority.

Based on their point hauls thus far this season - being first and second in the League, respectively, in that department - it's far easier said than done.

"They're two of the best in the game right now. Both Connor and Leon are playing unbelievable hockey," said Max Domi, regarding the Oilers' dynamic duo. "You know what to expect, and they're still going to get their chances."

Video: Max Domi on the Habs finding their groove again

How do you counter that kind of firepower, then?

"You've just got to try and limit those chances as much as possible and still play within your system. You respect them, but not too much to the point where you're backing off," explained Domi. "Take it to them and play our game. We know we can beat any team in this League, and it's no different against Edmonton. It's a great test for us, and we've got to be ready to go."

McDavid and Draisaitl have helped the Oilers establish the League's top-ranked power play, too, so avoiding the penalty box is extra important as well.

"With the skill they've got there, you have to be disciplined. There's not only speed there, but there's skill. They can beat you one-on-one, but their power play is obviously a big weapon for them and their offensive game is their biggest weapon - and it has been for a long time," said Julien. "Our defensive game is going to have to be at its best if we want to win a hockey game here."

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