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A first time for everything

For several members of the Canadiens, Wednesday's game against the Washington Capitals will be a rite of passage

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - When the Canadiens take to the Bell Centre ice to face the Washington Capitals on Wednesday evening, it'll be a night of firsts for many.

New acquisition Ales Hemsky will be suiting up for his first preseason game as a Hab after signing a one-year contract with the club in July. The 34-year-old arrives in Montreal after a three-year stint with the Dallas Stars, and is eager to feel the rush of playing a home game in Canadiens colors.

"It's exciting, the first preseason game. It's been awhile," said the native of Pardubice, Czech Republic. "You work all summer for this, it's pretty exciting to put the jersey on and play for the fans."

Hemsky missed all but 15 games in 2016-17 after suffering a torn hip labrum in the World Cup of Hockey, and feels like coming back at the end of the season has given him a mental boost going into the upcoming campaign.

"I think those I played last season helped me a lot," he confirmed. "It gave me the confidence I could still play, and to go into the summer and work hard, come back and see what will happen."

Video: Hemsky on his first game with the Canadiens

Claude Julien understands where Hemsky is coming from, and has been pleased with what he's seen from the experienced NHLer so far in camp.

"He's coming off an injury, he's feeling better. I think what I'm seeing from him is that every day seems to be a better pace from him. A veteran like that, when he starts camp, he'll pace himself; he's smart enough to know not to come in and re-injure himself," the head coach said of Hemsky, who registered four goals and three assists last season. "We also have to understand the situation he's in and give him that opportunity to get to where we think he can get. At some point, we'll get to see the real Ales Hemsky that a lot of people have gotten to know: a good skater and a good playmaker."

Hemsky will be entering his fourteenth season in the pros and is no stranger to NHL action, but the same can't be said for defenseman Victor Mete, who will be suiting up for his first preseason game against the Capitals.

While the 19-year-old plans on taking in the moment, he will also be doing his utmost to keep an even keel and get the job done.

"It's my first NHL preseason game, it's a pretty special moment for me and my family. I'm going to not really think about it, just go out there and think like it's another game," described Mete, who netted 15 goals and added 29 assists in 50 games for the OHL's London Knights last season. "Obviously, that's hard to do playing in front of a way bigger crowd than normal, but I'll just try to go out there and play composed."

Although Mete was featured on a defense pairing with Jakub Jerabek in Wednesday's practice, the youngster has been able to benefit from working closely with veteran Shea Weber, and feels he's picked up a lot in the short time the two blue-liners have had together at camp.

"For management to put me with a guy like Weber, it shows a lot," indicated the Canadiens' fourth-round pick (100th overall) in 2016. "He's one of the best defensemen in the NHL, so being able to play with him as a 19-year-old has taught me a lot."

Video: Victor Mete on working with Shea Weber

Sainte-Agathe native Jonathan Drouin may have taken part in the Red vs. White Intrasquad Scrimmage on Sunday, but the tilt against Washington marks his first appearance in official game action at home as a Hab. After a summer of training and appearances, the star forward is looking forward to finally getting down to business.

"For sure. Even though it's preseason, it's my first game at the Bell Centre against an NHL team, so I'm excited. It's going to be special. I can't wait to get started," explained Drouin, who announced a $500,000 donation and $5 million fundraising commitment to the Fondation du CHUM on Tuesday. "When Michel Lacroix will announce, "Accueillons nos Canadiens," it's going to be cool, so I'm really excited. I'm going to get goosebumps."

Video: Jonathan Drouin on his first exhibition game

For those Canadiens who didn't participate in Monday night's matchup against the Bruins in Quebec City, the game against the Capitals might be a night of firsts for them too - if they end up having to take any faceoffs.

That's because the NHL has decided to tighten up enforcement on the draw, something that resulted in a slew of ejections from the faceoff circle. As a winger, captain Max Pacioretty may not usually take faceoffs, but he'll be prepared if called upon.

"Kirk [Muller] told me to get ready to take some draws tonight. I don't want to be the guy who comes in second and takes a penalty," said Pacioretty. "We're just kind of learning the rule, and we'll see how it goes tonight."

Julien carved out some time for faceoff work in Brossard, acknowledging that his troops would have to adjust to a new reality.

"We need to cooperate with them. They're putting that together and they're trying to enforce something. We can all have our opinions and we can all agree or disagree, but right now, that's what they've asked us to do. Right now, I think what you're seeing is guys at the end of their sticks trying to win a faceoff clean and it's something we're not used to. But we need to work with it, that's what's been mandated right now," concluded the Habs bench boss. "I'd like to prevent our team from going to the penalty box for a faceoff violation, so we're giving the guys a bit of instruction on what's expected and what to do."

Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m.

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