BROSSARD - The Canadiens will be able to count on a few reinforcements in the lineup coming out of the All Star break.
Fresh off his stint representing Team Atlantic at the NHL All-Star Game, head coach Michel Therrien was met with some positive news in Brossard on Monday, with a handful of injured Habs inching closer to making their returns.
He also had a chance to see newly-acquired defenseman Nikita Nesterov for the first time in person since the 23-year-old was brought in from Tampa via a trade on Thursday night.
"Nesterov will play tomorrow. He gives us a little more depth, which is important," confirmed Therrien. "Especially with all the guys we have coming back, he'll up the level of internal competition and coaches always love that."
In 35 games with the Lightning this season, Nesterov has scored three goals and added nine assists, averaging 16:35 of ice time per night. He's looking forward to making the most of his new opportunity with the division-leading Habs.
"I'd be happy to stay here in Montreal. It's a great city and a great team," shared the Chelyabinsk, Russia native. "It will be nice. It's good for me and the guys have helped me. I know all the Russian guys - and [Sven] Andrighetto."
One familiar face who could be joining Nesterov on the ice against the Sabres is assistant captain Andrei Markov, who has missed the last six weeks with a lower-body injury.
"I know [Nikita] and we had a little chat before the practice," said Markov, who has been sidelined for 19 games. "I'm a hockey player, not a scout, but he's a good, young defenseman. He skates well, shoots well, and makes a good first pass. He'll be good for our team."
While Markov will have to wait a little longer to know if he'll see his first game action since December 17 on Tuesday night, the 38-year-old rearguard confirmed he's feeling ready to get back to work.
"I feel good. There's no pain. That was my first practice with the team in a long time, so we'll see what will happen tomorrow," said Markov, who has racked up 21 points in 31 games played this season. "It was a weird injury, but now I feel good and I'm ready to play. I practiced a lot without the team and we did a lot of skating so I feel pretty good."
In addition to Nesterov and Markov, Greg Pateryn could also potentially slide back into a spot on the blue line sooner than later, inching closer to getting the green light from the team's medical staff.
"It's just a matter of days. We're just kind of seeing how everything feels each day and I'm right there, so it should be any day," confirmed the 26-year-old defenseman, who has missed 24 games since fracturing his ankle on December 6. "The last few weeks, I've been on the ice and we've been ramping it up. Today my lungs and legs felt good; I think it'll be more timing. It's right around the corner. I'm hoping it's this week, but we'll see what they say."
Up front, Alex Galchenyuk will be out until at least the weekend after re-aggravating a knee injury prior to the break, but centerman David Desharnais should be back in action against the Sabres. Desharnais has been out of commission with a knee injury since December 6, having missed 24 games in that span. Before being sidelined, the 30-year-old centerman had registered nine points, including three goals, in 25 games.
"Having two or three extra days off definitely helped with all the injuries. That's the best thing you can have before getting back. I feel ready. I'll tell [the medical staff] that when I see them and they'll make their decision," said Desharnais, who centered a line with Andrighetto and Andrew Shaw on Monday. "I was playing with Shawzy before I got hurt and I liked it. The biggest thing is that I'll have to find my timing again, which I'll have to do no matter who I'm playing with."
While Carey Price and Shea Weber did not practice on Monday after returning from their All-Star experiences in Los Angeles, both will be in action against the Sabres. Price will be looking to pick up his 23rd win of the campaign in his 38th start of the season.
Lines and defense pairings at practice
Pacioretty - Danault - Radulov
Lehkonen - Plekanec - Byron
De la Rose
Emelin - Pateryn
Beaulieu - Petry
Markov - Nesterov/Barberio