BROSSARD - The Canadiens are preparing to close out their six-game homestand at the Bell Centre on Saturday night, and it's safe to say they've saved the best for last.
"It's a big challenge tonight," said captain Max Pacioretty of the Toronto Maple Leafs after Saturday morning's optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex. "It's a team that has a lot of offensive firepower and we want to match that, but through playing good defense and allowing that to give us room to create offense. That's our plan against a team like this.
"We have to try to make life hard on them and frustrate them and capitalize when we get the opportunity."
Although the Leafs may have to once again make do without star forward Auston Matthews, who's been sidelined with an upper-body injury and hasn't played since November 6 against Vegas, Pacioretty reminded reporters that Toronto's success this year is not a one-man affair.
"We know that throughout the lineup, they have tremendous skill. It doesn't matter to us who's playing; we have to focus on whoever is playing," he explained. "We have to frustrate them and get them off their game. That's by playing some stingy defense and creating offense when it comes."
Video: Pacioretty on the challenge that awaits
No. 67 had taken the day off practice on Friday to deal with a flu bug that's been making its way around the locker room, but took part in the optional skate and was confirmed to be in the lineup to face the Habs' archrivals. Ditto for Jonathan Drouin and Jordie Benn.
"It's not as tough as you think, it's more of just a head game," explained Benn, who skated for 16:59 against Arizona on Thursday despite being under the weather. "It's just frustrating. You're out there, you're not feeling well, but you just get through it.
"I feel better. [I had] a good day yesterday, just tried to relax and sleep it off. I think I got most of it out, so hopefully we're on the up-rise."
Video: Jordie Benn on his health status
Head coach Claude Julien announced after practice - which featured Pacioretty, Drouin and Benn as well as Brandon Davidson, Torrey Mitchell and Antti Niemi - that with the flu-stricken players ready to go, there would be no changes to his lineup. That means Charlie Lindgren will be getting his seventh straight start in the Montreal crease.
Hailing from Victoria, BC, Benn may have grown up on the other side of the country, but that doesn't mean he's not happy he's able to participate in the latest showdown between the two historic rivals.
"I thought about that yesterday, I definitely didn't want to miss tonight's game," he added. "It's fun to be out there on that stage against Toronto, on this kind of a night. It takes you back to being a kid."
For his part, Drouin was feeling good about his team's chances against Mike Babcock's troops, provided they can execute on their game plan.
"I liked the way we played against them last time. It's going to be the same thing tonight. If we limit their speed in the neutral zone, their breakouts… they have players who don't need a lot of room to make plays," outlined Drouin, who scored a goal and an assist the last time the two teams met, a 4-3 overtime loss for the Habs back on October 14. "We need to keep their players in check a bit more, let them create as few chances as possible.
Video: Jonathan Drouin on playing center
"We didn't like the way we finished the game against Arizona. This is a game against Toronto, a divisional game, it's almost a four-point game," he concluded. "It's on us to show that we weren't happy with the way we had played and show that tonight."