BROSSARD - With another big test on the horizon, head coach Claude Julien says that things are headed in the right direction on the flu bug front.
The bench boss says his troops are starting to feel better, but with recoveries still ongoing, he'll have to make his lineup decisions closer to puck drop against the Maple Leafs.
"I have my game card on my desk, and it's blank right now," admitted Julien.
In the case of Jonathan Drouin, the coach said that while he took part in Saturday's optional morning skate, the decision is still in the winger's hands as to when he returns, and so it remains to be seen if he'll dress against the Leafs.
Julien says he will make his roster decisions with the goal of maximizing the potential of his squad as they look to gain some ground on Toronto, which is six points ahead of Montreal with a game in hand.
"It's about who will be in the best position to help us win a big game," said the coach.
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
After making his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, Toronto native Jake Evans will have to wait until those lineup decisions are made to find out if he'll face his hometown team.
What an experience that would be for game No. 2 in the League.
"They're both just moments you dream of: your first game, or playing against the Leafs would be pretty awesome as well. They're both stacked up right beside each other," shared Evans, the Canadiens' seventh-round pick (207th overall) in 2014. "If I get in, that'd be great. If I don't it still has been an honor to play here."
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Nick Suzuki should face the Leafs and will play a more prominent role than he did when the Habs played their first two games against their archrivals in October. In other words, expect to see him matched up against one of either John Tavares' or Auston Matthews' lines, and the pivot from London, ON knows he's up for a tough challenge.
"They're definitely some of the top centermen in the League and they're tough to play against every night," affirmed Suzuki, who currently sits fourth in the rookie scoring race with 34 points (11G, 23A). "If I'm out there against them, I just need to play them hard. Be smart. Just be aware when they're on the ice; everyone knows what they're capable of, so just try to get a stick on their pucks."
Video: Suzuki on facing the likes of Matthews and Tavares
Julien praised Suzuki for being consistent in his performances, even on nights when he doesn't stand out on the scoresheet, which explains the coach's confidence in heaping that kind of responsibility on the 20-year-old.
"He's playing some good hockey," outlined the coach. "What I like about him is that even when he doesn't play a big game offensively, he's still been a reliable player. In some games, he may not be generating scoring chances for himself or his teammates, but he never hurts us. That's a good sign for a young player. You want to have a player who is as regular as possible every game, and up until now, he's been doing a good job that way."
Byron joins the boys, Poehling to Laval
Paul Byron won't be ready to face Toronto, but he took part in the skate with his teammates nonetheless, and Julien was happy to see the speedy winger making progress in his recovery from his knee injury.
"He's excited about that. We're excited to see him on the ice with us too. He's always been an important player for us and we've missed him so far this year," concluded Julien. "It's nice to see him back on the ice with us."
After practice, the Canadiens announced that forward Ryan Poehling had been reassigned to the AHL's Laval Rocket. He had played 23 games with the Habs since his recall on December 11, recording two points (1G, 1A).
The Canadiens-Maple Leafs contest is set for 7:00 p.m. at the Bell Centre. For tickets to the game, click here.